In Michigan, we have been working around-the-clock to protect our families and the heroes on the front lines of this crisis. For many weeks we have had the nation’s third-highest number of deaths, despite having the 10th-largest population. Early on, we had a day’s worth of personal protective equipment in hospitals that were already at capacity. Today, thanks to our procurement team and partners in government, business, labor and the nonprofit sector, we have enough for several weeks. We have aggressively ramped up testing. And we have seen our curve flatten, thanks to the discipline of the vast majority of people in Michigan who have done their part by staying home.
Simultaneously, I have been working with the University of Michigan’s public health experts and leaders in health care, business, labor and education. The “MI Safe Start” plan that we have developed will incrementally and strategically reengage sectors of our economy to lower the risk of a second wave of covid-19 that we have seen in other countries. Going too fast could squander all that we have sacrificed these past two months and risk lives and another shutdown. This would put our economy, health and medical system at risk.
The health crisis begets the economic crisis. We must get the former under control to address the latter. That means conducting a lot more tests, seeing the percent of positive cases decline, enhancing our tracing capabilities and ensuring hospitals are ready in case numbers go back up. Until there is a vaccine, social distancing is the only real tool to prevent the spread. But we know that will not be tolerated in perpetuity. Accordingly, widespread testing, tracing and safety protocols are essential. Right now, Michigan is increasing our capacity to test, trace and support people who are infected or exposed to the virus. I will also continue to work with our federal partners to secure more testing supplies so we can screen more Michiganders beyond our goal of 450,000 tests this month.
The people who have stepped up to serve on the front lines of this crisis deserve our gratitude and respect. They risked their lives to help the rest of us. I recently announced the “Futures for Frontliners” proposal to help ensure these heroes have pathways to opportunity. Modeled after the GI Bill following World War II, Michigan would offer tuition-free college opportunities for the people who have risked their lives fighting on the front lines of this pandemic. It would help more workers acquire technical certificates, associate degrees at community colleges and, potentially, bachelor’s degrees at our universities after this crisis is over. This is the first program of its kind in the United States, and we hope other states will follow our lead to create more pathways to opportunity for those who have been on the front lines protecting our families.
Recent estimates from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show that state budget shortfalls alone could total $650 billion over the next three years. Right now, we need our federal partners to provide sufficient and flexible aid to mitigate the economic crisis that every state is going through. None of us can afford for this to devolve into a partisan issue. President Trump called this a war, and it is exactly that. So we must act like it. In World War II, Americans dropped everything they were doing to build planes and tanks. They rationed food and took care of one another. They worked together and sacrificed until we had beaten the enemy.
Now, we are called again to act, put aside political differences, protect our families and loved ones, and beat this virus.