Whitmer looks to expand Future for Frontliners Program

The Michigan governor wants to expand her Future for Frontliners program to include essential employees that worked during the later months of the pandemic.

The tuition-free plan which already includes 120,000 workers would be expanded to include 22,000 more people that worked between Nov. 1, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021.

Paying for that much more college would require an additional $100 million, which Gretchen Whitmer called a "drop in the bucket" of the state's $3.5 billion surplus.

"Today we are taking the last big step to get back to normal, but we will never forget the frontline workers along the way who helped us get here," Whitmer said in a statement. "That’s why I’m calling on the legislature to join me in expanding the Futures for Frontliners scholarship program to cover the selfless Michiganders who stepped up in unprecedented ways to keep our state moving."

The Future for Frontliners program started in Sept. 2020 and invited anyone who filled an essential role during the first months of the pandemic to sign up. They would have two years of community college paid for by the state, in recognition of their service during the public health crisis.

The program was available to anyone who worked but did not have a degree. It includes people not just in the medical field, but those that worked in nursing homes, grocery stores, sanitation services, and manufacturing. 

According to a release from the governor's office, 16,000 people who applied for the program have already completed a semester of school. 

The initial program was funded through a $24 million investment from the federal CARES Act that Congress approved early during the pandemic.

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Michigan has a lot more money after another stimulus bill was passed earlier this year. It vaulted the state from a multi-billion dollar deficit to a surplus. The governor has been on something of a statewide circuit advocating for ways to boost wages, offer expanded child care, and small business support with the extra money.

But her latest announcement, along with those initiatives, will require legislative approval. 

She first delivered her wish to expand the program on Belle Isle, where she spoke with other local leaders about the state's reopening.