Whitmer marks June 17 as day to honor frontline workers

Amelia Benavides-Colón
The Detroit News

Detroit — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a proclamation Thursday to mark June 17 as Essential Worker Appreciation Day amid calls for state and city leaders to prioritize use of federal COVID-19 relief aid to support frontline workers and their families. 

The governor also endorsed federal "Hero Pay" legislation, a one-time bonus for all essential workers of the coronavirus pandemic during a press conference at Mission Point Nursing & Physical Rehabilitation Center in Detroit with members of SEIU Healthcare Michigan and CEO and President of Michigan Management Services Roger Mali. 

Tamara Blue, a worker at Mission Point Nursing & Physical Rehabilitation Center in Detroit, speaks Thursday, June17, 2021, urging state and city leaders to direct COVID-19 relief dollars to support essential workers and their families.

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"Everyday during this crisis we counted on our essential workers to take care of the people in their greatest need," Whitmer said. "We will not stop until we recognize our essential workers, not just with a day of appreciation, but with Hero Pay that you have earned."

Under President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan, Michigan received about $18 billion in COVID-19 recovery aid, about $6.5 billion of which the state has broader discretion over. The state's allocation includes $826 million for the city of Detroit.

Essential workers have called on the state and city leaders to put working families at the top of the list by prioritizing bonus pay as well as healthcare, nursing home and other essential workers at an elevated risk of contracting the virus due to their jobs. 

Tamara Blue, a healthcare worker at Mission Point, said during the Thursday press conference that frontline workers have been called heroes, but haven't felt they've been treated as such.

"We work hard, but still can't afford basic needs, like rent and healthcare. Many of us can't afford to take time off to recover after this traumatic year," Blue said. "It is time for that to change — for essential workers to be valued and respected."

Whitmer announces Essential Worker Appreciation Day

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has said the city will use part of the federal funding to fight intergenerational poverty. The city has held a series of public input sessions to identify key spending areas. The City Council must vote to appropriate the funds by June 30.

Last year, Whitmer launched the "Futures for Frontliners” program to provide a tuition-free pathway to college or a technical certificate to essential workers who don’t have a college degree. Since then, over 120,000 frontline workers have applied. 

Whitmer went on Thursday to speak about how essential workers deserve "pay that they can live on" and thanked the Biden administration for allocating funding for this need.

"With the American Rescue Plan we are so grateful to the Biden administration, to the Democrats in Congress who voted to make this a reality, and now it's on us...," Whitmer added. "That's why this is so important." 

Whitmer has detailed plans to allocate some of the federal dollars for child care programming, small businesses and recreation, among other things.