LANSING — State Representative Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) voted for the Michigan House of Representative’s budget today despite having concerns that the proposal fails to help working families and entrepreneurs in Michigan. While she hopes the budget will be improved in the Senate, she said that there were several positive features in the House budget that merited her support.
“I’m grateful that the House adopted an amendment that mirrors my House Bill 5088, which will create an ombudsman’s office for our state-run veterans homes. This means that the resident veterans and their families would soon have a person to go to whose sole job is to investigate and resolve allegations of abuse, neglect or inadequate care,” Rep. Brinks said. “However, more still needs to be done for the residents of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, and I was disappointed that my amendment to require adequate staffing at the home was rejected. It’s my hope that the Senate will add my amendment to their budget.”
Rep. Brinks offered an amendment that would have improved the quality of care at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, which has been one of her top priorities since taking office in 2013. Brinks has made repeated calls for legislative action to improve care for veterans at the home, but the Republican-led Legislature has been slow to act. A state audit of the home released earlier this year outlined several concerns — including staffing shortages, ignored patient alarm calls and cover-ups of abuse and neglect allegations. Brinks’ amendment would have required state-run veterans homes to adhere to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs per-patient care hour staffing guidelines, and held the state or contracted staffing agencies accountable if they failed to meet those guidelines.
“It’s easy to say we support our veterans, but they need more from us than kind words,” Rep. Brinks said. “If we truly care for our veterans, we need to put our money where our mouth is. I’m discouraged that Republicans refused to vote for this amendment, but I will continue the fight to improve the quality of care at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. I urge the Senate to include my amendment in the budget that they return to the House.”
Democrats offered several other amendments that would help middle-class families, veterans, seniors and communities that were voted down. These include:
- An amendment from Rep. Henry Yanez (D-Sterling Heights) that would have added $5 million in senior services to be split between Meals on Wheels and other community nutrition programs.
- A Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Calumet) amendment to prohibit state legislators from moving into a building, such as the Capitol View building, where lobbying firms reside.
- A Rep. Kristy Pagan (D-Canton) amendment to reinstate the Michigan State Board of Education funding, which was unfairly stripped down due to the board’s support of gender-neutral bathrooms in state schools.
- A Pagan amendment to create an equal pay commission, the goal of which would be to bring solutions to the continued problem of women making less than men in the workplace doing the same job.
- A Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) amendment to increase revenue sharing to Michigan communities to give them a chance to provide vital public services to their residents.
- A Rep. Fred Durhal III (D-Detroit) amendment to stop the failed practice of prison food contracts being issued to private companies, and instead bring back state workers in need of jobs.
On the positive side, the budget proposal includes long-awaited funding for firefighter cancer presumption, an issue that has been pushed for heavily by House Democrats, who have consistently voiced their belief that taking care of those in public service is a duty.
Other amendments adopted include:
- An amendment from House Democratic Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) to fund treatment and prevention of the Zika virus, including mosquito abatement programs, education and screenings.
- Funding for sexual assault prevention programs, introduced in an amendment by Rep. Pagan, which is currently available in only 33 of the 83 counties in Michigan due to a lack of funds.
- A Rep. Yanez amendment to include funding for an ombudsman for the two veterans’ homes in Michigan to address and investigate complaints.
- An amendment from Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) to invest $3.15 million into home heating assistance in order to leverage almost $140 million in federal food stamp assistance. This results in 160,000 people receiving an additional $76 of assistance every month.
“I’m grateful for the improvements that were made, and the willingness for my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to make improvements to the budget that will help everyday Michiganders,” Brinks said. “My hope is that the Senate will continue making improvements to the state budget. By the time we vote on a final budget proposal, I hope to see a document that I can fully support.”