Whitmer unveils details of COVID vaccination cash prizes, college scholarships

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing —  Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled a $5 million initiative Thursday that will offer college scholarships and cash prizes to Michigan residents who have gotten their COVID-19 vaccine, saying the program will save and change lives.

The "MI Shot to Win Sweepstakes" will offer drawings awarding from $50,000 to $2 million. Residents who are between the ages of 12 and 17 can win one of nine $55,000 college scholarships.The $2 million drawing will take place in early August, as will the drawings for the scholarships. There also will be $50,000 daily drawings for newly vaccinated individuals throughout July.

The sweepstakes began Thursday and will conclude Aug. 3, according to governor's office and sweepstakes website.

The effort, which is a collaboration of Meijer, Michigan Association of United Ways, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and other groups, is meant to encourage more Michiganians to get vaccinated and achieve the governor's goal of having 70% of the adult population protected. Ohio and other states launched similar efforts in May.

"We are tapping into our competitive spirit as Michiganders,” Whitmer said Thursday morning. “I know that some of you must be thinking, 'Didn’t Ohio do this first?'

"Well, yes they did. But in typical Michigan fashion, we are going to do bigger and better than they can do it in Ohio."

More than 231,000 Michigan residents registered by 3 p.m. Thursday, according to the Protect Michigan Commission.

The $5 million behind the initiative comes from federal relief money that the Legislature has already allocated for the state's COVID-19 response, said Kerry Ebersole Singh, director of the Protect Michigan Commission.

The money is left over relief aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 that the Legislature subsequently approved to be spent under a work project after the end of last year, Ebersole Singh said in a subsequent statement.

As of Wednesday, nearly 62% of Michigan residents 16 and older have received at least their initial vaccine dose. The percentage has been inching upward slowly in recent weeks. In the last 52 days, it's risen only about 7 percentage points from 55% on May 10.

Ebersole Singh said she's hopeful the new sweepstakes will get the percentage to 70% by Labor Day, which is 67 days away. She said she believes the $50,000 daily drawings for the newly vaccinated could boost the number.

"We don’t want to necessarily have this fan out after the launch and have folks lose interest," Ebersole Singh said. "We are working on some innovative ideas in terms of announcing the prize winners."

To be eligible for the new sweepstakes, people must register at mishottowin.com or call 888-535-6136  and press 1. An initial $1 million drawing is open to all Michigan residents who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination between Dec. 1 and July 10. The $2 million drawing is open to all Michigan residents who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination between Dec.1 and July 30.

There will be daily drawings for $50,000 that are open to all eligible persons who receive their first dose of a COVID 19 vaccination on the date corresponding to the $50,000 daily drawing.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a sweepstakes initiative Thursday, July 1, 2021, to encourage residents to get their COVID-19 vaccine.

The state government will verify a winner's vaccination status.

In May, the Democratic governor said state law precluded Michigan from offering a lottery to spur more people to get vaccinated. Asked about that Thursday, she said Michigan could offer the same type of program that Ohio did because of Michigan's laws on gaming. The policies limit government's ability to expand gaming and set restrictions on lotteries.

Whitmer said she asked the Legislature to change a law to allow a sweepstakes here, like Ohio's.

"That was not something the Legislature was interested in, so we pursued other vehicles for doing this," Whitmer said. "That’s why this partnership powered by Meijer and the United Way is a great way to accomplish the same goal but through a different means of accomplishing it."

Meijer, the large retail chain based in Michigan, will administer the vaccine initiative and provide staffing for it, Ebersole Singh said.

Rich Studley, president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and a frequent critic of the Whitmer administration, appeared at Thursday's press conference at Cristo Rey church in Lansing to help roll out "MI Shot to Win."

"I want to express the Michigan Chamber's full support for this sweepstakes," Studley said. "i did hear there was a state to the south that tried something like this. We'll learned from their mistakes and do a better job."

Other states, including Ohio, have used similar programs to try to entice their residents to get vaccinated. Vaccinations in Ohio jumped 28% the weekend after Gov. Mike DeWine's "Vax-a-Million" initiative was announced on May 12, according to his state's health department.

During a White House briefing in May, Andy Slavitt, then-acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called the lottery programs "very effective."

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the Maryland Lottery and the Maryland Department of Health launched a "VaxCash" promotion in May, which planned to hand out a total of $2 million in cash prizes to 41 Maryland residents who have been vaccinated.

From January through May, the state has spent more than $7 million on vaccine-related advertising, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said Michigan's COVID-19 case rates have decreased as vaccinations have increased. 

Vaccinations are the state's path forward, Hertel said.