Whitmer: Spend $300M of virus aid to hike hourly wage to $15

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LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday proposed spending $300 million in federal COVID-19 funding to help Michigan businesses pay workers $15 an hour.

State grants would cover the difference between an employee’s current hourly wage and $15 for three months, as long as the business committed to continuing the $15 wage for at least three additional months. The Democratic governor’s office did not immediately say how many people would see bigger paychecks under the program, which would need approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Negotiations overallocating billions in federal coronavirus aid are ongoing. Employers have been unable to add as many workers as they need.

“This is our opportunity to support businesses getting back on their feet and, critically, support the people that do the hard work who need to take care of their families,” Whitmer said.

She included the wage proposal in an economic plan she unveiled at a women’s business center in Grand Rapids. Some facets were previously announced, such as funding new tuition-free programs for adults 25 and older and frontline workers to attend community college. She also reiterated the need for $300 million to give grants and loans to struggling small businesses, and again highlighted her budget proposal to expand access to no-cost or low-cost child care to families at 200% of the federal poverty line.

Under another new proposal, the state Unemployment Insurance Agency would hire 50 more full-time staff to help claimants who, starting this week, must actively search for work to qualify for benefits. That requirement had been waived for more than 14 months.

Initially, the Whitmer administration had proposed funding most of the new spending with state funds. But now it is looking to use federal sources from the latest coronavirus relief package approved by Congress and President Joe Biden in March, state budget office spokesman Kurt Weiss said.

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