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Program provides free college for essential workers

LANSING (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday released details of a program to provide free college for an estimated 625,000 essential workers who worked in-person when stay-at-home orders were in place. It was first announced in April and will be paid for, at least initially, with $24 million in federal virus-related aid.

To be eligible for a Futures for Frontliners scholarship, a person must be a Michigan resident who worked in an essential industry at least part time — and at least partly outside the home — for 11 of 13 weeks between April 1 and June 30. Applicants also cannot already have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or be in default on a federal student loan. The deadline to apply is Dec. 31.

“They are the heroes of our generation,” said Jeff Donofrio, director of the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. Community colleges and manufacturing, grocery and labor groups pledged to spreading the word about the grant program.

Also Thursday, Whitmer sharply criticized President Donald Trump following revelations that he had purposely downplayed the deadly coronavirus, calling it “devastating” news and Trump the “biggest threat” to Americans.

Whitmer, a Democrat whose state was hit hard by COVID-19 in the spring, reacted a day after the release of excerpts from journalist Bob Woodward’s book. Woodward, who interviewed Trump 18 times and recorded the conversations, said the president acknowledged being alarmed by the virus in February, even as he was telling the nation it was no worse than the flu and that it would swiftly disappear.

“It’s just devastating to hear that,” the governor said at a news conference. “We’ve been working so hard to save lives.”

She said it would be one thing for Trump to have not been well informed about the new virus, “but it’s a whole other thing to be reckless or ignorant and to be deceptive and to have American lives lost because of it. They knew. They didn’t tell us. … The biggest threat to the American people is the American president now. It’s devastating. I do not relish saying that.”

Trump, who was scheduled to campaign outside Saginaw on Thursday night, has explained that he was just being a “cheerleader” for the country and trying to keep everyone calm. Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox said Whitmer should “look in the mirror,” criticizing her handling of the coronavirus inside nursing homes.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

The state Unemployment Insurance Agency said it had begun processing a supplemental $300-a-week federal benefit for 910,000 claimants. People will begin receiving payments covering the weeks ending Aug. 1, Aug. 8 and Aug. 15 over the next week to 10 days and do not have to file a separate claim to qualify.

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