GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Saying Michigan is poised to make a big economic comeback, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday laid out a number of proposals that she says will “jump-start” the economy and get people back to work.
During a press conference at Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women at the YWCA in downtown Grand Rapids, Whitmer said federal money sent to the state for COVID-19 relief could be used to boost the economy and get people back to work.
“We’ve got an opportunity to make some investments in ways that really lift people up, help small business and help us get back to normal,” Whitmer said.
Her proposals focus on three main points: higher wages, small businesses and child care.
Among the programs she put forth is one dubbed MI Bigger Paychecks. She says it would divide $300 million to offer three-month grants to businesses so they could raise their hourly wages to $15. The grants would cover the difference between current wages and $15. Businesses would have to commit to a $15 per hour wage for a total of six months; if they go back on their word, the state could take the grant money back.
Saying people should also have access to better jobs, Whitmer wants to send another $180 million on two programs created during the pandemic — Michigan Reconnect and Future for Frontliners — that pay for free skills training or associate’s degrees from community colleges.
Under the three-pronged Michigan Main Street Initiative plan, $100 million in grants would go to brick-and-mortar businesses, specifically restaurants, to help them cover payroll, mortgages or other operating expenses as they return to regular business. Another $125 million would go to small businesses, including grants to community development financial institutions. Finally, $75 million would fund grants for startups, including $50,000 community planning grants.
Turning to her third point, Whitmer said a lack of affordable child care is preventing some people — particularly women — from returning to the workforce. Her proposed budget includes $370 million to expand access to low-cost or free child care. That would include child care subsidies and support for five-day-a-week school in the fall.
LEGISLATURE NEEDS TO APPROVE FUNDS
Michigan’s economic picture, at least in part due to the federal relief funds, is in surplus to the tune of about $3.5 billion after a projected shortfall of nearly the same amount.
But the Democratic governor, who has had an uneasy relationship with the Republican-led Legislature, will still need its OK to get her wish list filled.
“Hopefully, we can get the Legislature to do their appropriations job so we can deploy these resources,” she said. “And this would be a great way to make sure they get into our communities and in our economy in a way lifts people up as we recover from COVID-19.”
“The Legislature has an important role in all of this, right?” she continued. “We have billions of dollars that was sent to our state six months ago that they still haven’t completely appropriated. Every that they are not deployed are businesses that are looking for workers could use some help. And so certainly they have an important role here. I’m hopeful that they will get that process going.”
In all, she said, there is more than $20 billion from Washington that she wants lawmakers to appropriate.
The Legislature can appropriate a lot of those relief dollars outside the normal budget process with a supplemental spending bill. The question is whether lawmakers will tie spending some of those federal funds to an agreement on next year’s budget before they free up the money the governor wants.