Front-line workers in Michigan are being thanked for their efforts fighting the coronavirus pandemic with what the governor is touting as a modern-day G.I. bill that would grant them tuition-free college.
The new initiative, called "Futures for Frontliners," was announced Wednesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The bill, the first of its kind in the country, was inspired by the federal government's program to provide soldiers returning from World War II with educational opportunities, according to a statement from Whitmer's office.
"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. "This program will ensure tuition-free college opportunities and give these dedicated Michiganders an opportunity to earn a technical certificate, associate degree or even a bachelor's degree."
Among those who would benefit from the bill are medical workers, nursing home staff, grocery store employees, garbage collectors, manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE), those protecting public safety, and delivery people.
"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," Whitmer said. "You're the reason we're going to get through this."
The original G.I. Bill was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in June of 1944. It was revamped in 1984 by former Mississippi Congressman Gillespie V. "Sonny" Montgomery to ensure that it could benefit other veterans down the line, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
It was updated once more in 2008 to ensure that veterans with active duty service on or after 9/11 would be covered with more educational expenses, a living allowance, money for books, and the ability to transfer unused benefits to spouses or children.
Whitmer said the Michigan version of the program is part of her goal to increase the percentage of working-age adults with a technical certificate or college degree to 60% by 2030. Currently that number is at 45%, according to her office.
Specific details about how the program would be funded or when it would go into effect were not released, but the governor said she will be working on enacting her proposal with the bipartisan legislative coalition that last month helped pass an education program to provide tuition-free community college to adults over the age of 25 without a college degree.
In Michigan, there are at least 40,399 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the state's Department of Health and Human Services. There have been at least 3,670 COVID-19 deaths, according to the department.