Whitmer to propose budget increases for childcare, contraception, school meals and maternity care ⋆

In her first budget proposal to the new Democratic-controlled Legislature on Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to boost spending for childcare, birth control, school meals and more.  

In a phone interview with the on Monday morning, the governor characterized her Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget plan as being both “bold” and addressing Michigan’s long-term needs. 

It’s going to prioritize the things that I have been working on my whole career, and that I ran for reelection on, creating opportunities, making sure that every person has a path to skills so that they can get a really good-paying job here. Positioning Michigan to be a leader when it comes to things like manufacturing, and protecting our high-quality life and our low cost of living,” she said.

“So I do think it’s bold. It is a reflection of my values, and the values of the people in the state, but also really … budgets tell you what’s important, the necessities and then the priorities. And that’s what we’ll see in this.”

Whitmer told the Advance that she and Budget Director Chris Harkins will be presenting the budget together at 11 a.m. at Heritage Hall, capping off a big week for Michigan’s finances. 

That comes after Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) on Friday announced their deal on a tax relief plan that includes $180 “inflation relief” checks, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and repealing the retirement tax.

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) at a press conference in Lansing, Jan. 31, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

Whitmer served in the Legislature during the Great Recession and two partial government shutdowns. The Advance asked her if she ever expected to be in a position as governor during a time with a $9 billion surplus.

“No,” the governor said with a laugh. “I didn’t know we could have this circumstance in my full lifetime. I wasn’t counting on that. Gosh, three years ago we had a projected $3 billion deficit and now we have a $9 billion surplus. 

“So it’s an opportunity for us to pay the groundwork for long-term growth here. But we’ve got to be smart about it. These are one-time dollars, these are not necessarily recurring. So we’ve got to be thoughtful about how we utilize the resources we have right now.”

In her State of the State address last month, Whitmer proposed universal preschool for 4-year-olds. She told the Advance she will also propose boosting spending on childcare in her FY 2024 budget plan, as it’s been a big issue for parents — especially during the pandemic.

So it is a huge issue for us. I always kind of chafe when people say, ‘Women gotta get back in the workforce,’” said Whitmer. “Well, you know what, women left because there weren’t enough structural supports. And that’s why I think supporting families, and moms and dads — all households — [so they have] confidence that their children are in a good, safe place that’s nurturing them, and at the same time gets the parent the ability to pursue getting back into the workforce. So it is a win on a lot of fronts.” 

Whitmer said Michigan’s Tri-share program “has been a good step forward, and I think now we’re in position to take to the next step and afford more people the opportunity to get their kids the kind of preparation that they need to be successful in 2023 and how many decades ahead.”

In the FY 2024 budget, the governor also will propose expanding The Plan First! family planning program, which includes birth control at low or no cost. 

“Every Michigander deserves to choose when, if and how to start their family,” Whitmer said. “Expanding access to family planning coverage through Plan First! to 25,000 Michiganders would protect bodily autonomy and strengthen reproductive freedom while saving people up to $2,000 a year.”

The program offers:

  • Initial and annual physical exams relating to reproductive health and family planning options, including patient education and counseling
  • Breast and cervical cancer screenings
  • Sexually transmitted infections and HIV screening and testing
  • Laboratory services
  • Medical, diagnostic and treatment services

“I will keep fighting like hell to ensure Michiganders have reproductive freedom and quality, affordable health care,” Whitmer added.

She also wants to expand the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies initiative that expanded doula services, in-home visitation and other critical care. 

“Expecting Michiganders deserve to have the care they need to have a healthy pregnancy,” said Whitmer. “We know that 63% of maternal deaths in Michigan are preventable and we know that Black women are nearly three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. 

Whitmer is proposing to center pregnancy sites, remove the five-year waiting period for immigrant pregnant women, support the perinatal quality collaborative, and incentivize hospitals to make maternal health improvements. 

“Families living in our state should have access to care no matter their immigration status — and a five-year waiting period has meant thousands of kids and pregnant people can’t get the health services they need during a critical period of their lives. Removing barriers for coverage for kids and parents goes a long way in helping families start out healthy and strong, provides financial security for families and communities, and assures families they belong in Michigan,” said Monique Stanton, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. 

Whitmer’s budget proposal will include $160 million for free school breakfast and lunch for all 1.4 million K-12 students, her office said. That would be an additional 18 million meals served and would pull down $45.3 million in additional funds to school districts. 

“We know that kids whose stomachs are growling in school is a complete distraction, and we want to make sure that kids have access to nutritious food, as well, so they can learn when they’re at school and not worry about being hungry,” Whitmer told the Advance.

Michigan would be the fourth state to implement the free meal program on an ongoing basis, after California, Colorado and Maine. The governor’s office estimates that could save families $850 per year. 

Whitmer’s budget plan also proposes $300 million for MI Kids Back On Track, the K-12 tutoring plan established during the COVID-19 pandemic, and $25 million to continue MI Future Educator Fellowship and student teacher stipends.

I do think it’s bold. It is a reflection of my values, and the values of the people in the state, but also really … budgets tell you what’s important, the necessities and then the priorities. And that’s what we’ll see in this.

– Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Asked if there will be a significant increase in per-pupil spending for K-12 students, and increases for public universities and community colleges like in the FY 2023 budget, Whitmer said, “Yes, we are making another serious investment in education and lifelong education.” 

Whitmer also stressed, as she did in her State of the State address, that she wants to expand the Michigan Reconnect program, ​​which provides tuition-free paths to an associate degree or skills certificate. She’s proposing to drop the eligibility age from 25 to 21 “to cultivate the philosophy and practice of lifelong education. 

“So many fields are changing so fast, and that’s why those that have aptitude and a good attitude often are the most coveted employees. Because expertise is important, but you’ve got to be able to learn along the way. And that’s why these investments from early childhood, to K-12, to post-high school, are also important.”

Whitmer also touted the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, which provides students with up to $5,000 per year in tuition assistance for post-secondary training and education.

“So these are all parts of the bigger plan to upskill our population, create opportunity,” she said.

authored by Susan J. Demas
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F02%2F07%2Fwhitmer-to-propose-budget-increases-for-childcare-contraception-school-meals-and-maternity-care%2F

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