Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a new program Wednesday that would offer free college education to essential workers during the ongoing pandemic.
Modeled after the post-World War II G.I. Bill that helped service members and veterans cover their education and training costs, Whitmer’s “Futures for Frontliners” program would provide an opportunity to earn college degrees or technical certificates for essential workers, including hospital and nursing home staff, grocery store workers, public safety officers, waste collectors, and many others.
“The Futures for Frontliners program is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to those who have risked their lives on the front lines of this crisis,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I want to assure all of our workers we will never forget those of you who stepped up and sacrificed their own health during this crisis. You’re the reason we’re going to get through this.”
Whitmer said the program would help Michigan to achieve a goal of increasing the number of working age adults with a technical certificate or college degree from 45 to 60 percent by 2030. She did not specify the estimated number of eligible workers, the cost, or how the program would be funded.
Enacting the proposed plan would depend on bipartisan support in the state legislature, the governor said. The same bipartisan legislative coalition helped pass “Reconnect” last month, a program that makes community college tuition fee-free for residents aged 25 and older.
Whitmer also called on Congress to support Sen. Gary Peters’s (D-Mich.) Heroes Fund to provide hazard pay for frontline workers. If passed, the fund would provide an estimated 3 million workers with an additional $13 per hour up to $25,000 a year, with an additional potential recruitment incentive of up to $15,000 for medical workers.
The governor has recently referenced World War II, comparing those who gathered in protest of Michigan’s social distancing restrictions to those who protested the American wartime production effort in the 1940s. The state’s social distancing rules have provoked backlash, drawing over 3,000 people to a protest called “Operation Gridlock” in the area surrounding the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.
“In World War II, there weren’t people lining up at the Capitol to protest the fact that they had to drop everything they were doing and build planes or tanks or to ration food,” Whitmer said in a public statement on Monday. “We were all in this together, and it wasn’t indefinite. It was until we’d beaten the enemy.”
As of Thursday morning, Michigan’s health department had reported over 40,000 COVID-19 cases, including 8,432 recoveries and 3,670 deaths.