Over half a million Michigan staffers who worked diligently on the front lines of the pandemic are now being recognized for their sacrifice and efforts. The state is offering them the opportunity to go to college without paying tuition fees.
Michigan’s Futures for Frontliners program is offering higher education to 625,000 state residents who stepped up to help and provide support during the Stay Home, Stay Safe orders between April and June 2020. Extending beyond the field of medicine, staffers representing factories, nursing homes, delivery, retail, grocery stores, and sanitation are also eligible to apply.
“This initiative is Michigan’s way of expressing gratitude to essential workers for protecting public health and keeping our state running,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer explained in a statement.
The new program, which has been compared to the GI Bill that provided a range of benefits for returning WWII veterans, has been in the making since late April. Michigan state representatives for education, labor, business, and workforce joined Whitmer at the Sept. 10 press conference to make the announcement official.
The announcement was also backed by a number of businesses, corporations, unions, and state legislators.
“It has been six months since Michigan recorded its first COVID-19 case,” Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist commented, according to Fox 2 Detroit. “In those early days we realized just how many unsung heroes we have in our communities.”
“The Futures for Frontliners is a national model,” he continued, “a first-of-its-kind downpayment on our debt of gratitude to these brave men and women who stayed on the frontlines during the early days of the pandemic.”
Funding for the program is a $24 million investment from the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief (GEER) fund, part of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill from the federal government.
Futures for Frontliners is also a channel through which one of Whitmer’s overarching goals, to increase the number of Michigan residents achieving an apprenticeship, industry certificate, or college education, can be realized. By waiving tuition fees, the program will enable more essential workers to boost their credentials and obtain higher-wage roles in their chosen careers.
“Michigan manufacturers have been on the frontlines in defense against the COVID-19 threat, creating essential products necessary for daily life, from food and pharmaceuticals, to transportation, and even toilet paper,” CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association John Walsh stated on behalf of the industry.
“The Futures for Frontliners program will recognize these truly-deserving heroes,” Walsh added, “investing in their personal future as well as the economic future of our state.”
According to Whitmer’s office, applicants will need to meet certain criteria to be eligible for the program, including being a Michigan state resident and would have worked in an “essential industry,” at least part-time, for 11 of the 13 weeks between April 1 and June 30.
Applicants must have been required by their employer to work outside their homes for at least some of that time period, have not yet earned an associate or bachelor’s degree, and not be in debt on a Federal student loan.
Whitmer, addressing essential workers, expressed, “Whether it was stocking shelves, delivering supplies, picking up trash, manufacturing PPE, or providing medical care, you were there for us.”
“Now this is your chance to pursue the degree or training you’ve been dreaming about,” the governor continued, “to help you and your own family succeed.”
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