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Whitmer announces tuition-free education for frontline workers COURTESY PHOTO

Whitmer announces tuition-free education for frontline workers

BY ANDY BALASKOVITZ and JESSICA YOUNG Wednesday, April 29, 2020 05:12pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday announced new programs for frontline COVID-19 workers while highlighting past efforts she says are meant to provide opportunity to working families during and after the pandemic.

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference that included comments from AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber, Whitmer announced the “Futures for Frontliners” program that will provide tuition-free postsecondary education to essential workers. 

The program would be open to people without college degrees who are staffing hospitals and nursing homes, stocking the shelves at grocery stores, providing child care to critical infrastructure workers, manufacturing personal protective equipment, protecting public safety, collecting trash or delivering supplies during the crisis. 

“This crisis has hit working families particularly hard,” Whitmer said. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, Michigan has 40,399 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,670 deaths.

Whitmer added that the education program — which she called the “first program of its kind in the nation” — will “help ensure frontline workers have a path to opportunity once we get beyond this crisis so we can thank them for the sacrifices made on all of our behalf.” 

Whitmer said her administration was inspired by the federal government’s support of soldiers returning from World War II and described the program as a G.I. Bill for workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The program also aligns with the state’s Reconnect program, a bipartisan initiative that seeks to increase the number of working-age adults with a technical certificate or college degree from 45 percent to 60 percent by 2030.

Ryan Fewins-Bliss, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, called Futures for Frontliners a “wonderful and appropriate way to show our appreciation for their services and their bravery. It is incumbent upon all of us who have benefited from their efforts to invest in their future professional lives. This will ultimately help our communities and our state to recover from this crisis — individually and economically.”

Whitmer and Bieber also called on Congress to pass U.S. Sen. Gary Peters’ Hero Fund legislation that would provide hazard pay to frontline workers.

Additionally, Whitmer announced the Child Care Relief Fund, which allocates $130 million in grants for child-care providers. Supported with $100 million in CARES Act stimulus funds, the program is meant to make child care more accessible during the pandemic.

“As the governor and state officials work to thoughtfully and carefully reopen our economy, they know that this cannot be done effectively if Michiganders can’t find the child care they need to go back to work,” Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, said in a statement. She added that the fund “is a critical infusion of resources into the state’s child care system at a time of great disruption, helping child care providers’ bottom line now and in the future while ensuring fair wages for child care workers and affordable, quality care for families.”

During Wednesday’s press conference, Whitmer highlighted previous orders expanding and extending eligibility for unemployment benefits, expanding the state’s Work Share program that will be federally funded through July, banning evictions and foreclosures, and barring employers for retaliating against employees who may not feel safe working during the pandemic.

“I took these actions because working families deserve leaders who will do everything they can to support them during times of crisis,” Whitmer said.

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