Since BLAC’s last discussion with Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II prior to the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, he sat down with us again to share significant developments in Gov. Whitmer’s administration. Aiming to move the state of Michigan forward, the initiatives are vast: the Governor’s newly proposed budget with specific directives on infrastructure, education, and healthcare while tackling racial disparities and delivering on racial equity to level the playing field for all Michiganders.
“I think the most important thing that’s happened is myself and many others have gotten vaccinated against COVID-19. That matters because, in January 2022, my baby got COVID and, then, my whole family got COVID. Because we were vaccinated, however, it was very mild and minor. It passed with no real incidents. I think that is the most meaningful thing. Because as we have worked to increase the rate of people getting vaccinated, that has enabled us to be able to do a number of things in terms of reengaging the economy.”
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist
BLAC: Lieutenant, we know education and childcare has been an important part of what you guys are doing. Why is that such an important initiative for you all?
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: We have historic investments in K12 education. We have made this generational investment in expanding access to health. In healthcare and childcare, we’ve made some transformational economic investments. We have had General Motors make the biggest economic development investment in the history of the company. Since January 21st, there’s been a lot of great happenings that I’m really proud of and proud to play a part of.
This is about doing everything we can to position our youngest people for success. And, the investments in families and the infrastructure to support the adults who will care for our children are some of the most important investments we can make.
BLAC: Can you talk a little bit about that and some of the initiatives that you guys have there?
Lt. Gilchrist: I think intention is the right word. We’re trying to make sure that the personnel, the administration, and programs are truly reflective of the totality of the people who live in Michigan: the broad diversity that we have. Working alongside our former Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the State of Michigan took a very explicit approach to addressing racial disparities during the pandemic and really showed national leadership and flattened those disparities.
“Every year we’ve been in office, we’ve made the biggest investment in the history of education in the State of Michigan.”
Lt. Gilchrist: With our economic policy, we’ve made sure that those who have been left out — those that are run by entrepreneurs of color, veterans and women — are included in the opportunity.
If you look at the pandemic relief from the federal government, businesses that had up to nine employees were not eligible to apply for those federal assistance programs. And, 94% percent of small businesses have fewer than nine employees in Michigan.
“That diversity has strength. We think in order for the state government to truly be as responsive as it can be, it has to be as reflective of the community as possible. That starts at the top.”
Lt. Gilchrist: We observed that COVID-19 was killing people of color at a rate of five times more than it has killed white people. We decided that we were not going to stand idly by and watch that happen. By executive action, Gov. Whitmer created the task force. We seated this taskforce for 26 of the brightest minds I’ve ever met. We meet every Friday to look at the tactics and strategies to reduce the mortality rate disparity that was present in COVID-19, which basically meant that Black folks represent 14% of the population while representing 40% of deaths.
We made an announcement of a partnership: the task force, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Detroit Public Schools, Community District, and the Detroit Health Department. Now, the Detroit school district is the first in the state to become an authorized vaccine provider in the state. School nurses have been trained to administer vaccines. The State of Michigan provided a grant to help distribute vaccines to our youngest learners. This partnership launched at the Coleman A. Young Elementary School.
And that exists again to have easy trustworthy place where people can walk in and get the support they need
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: We had targeted communications programming, free mass distribution, mobile testing and vaccination sites, and neighborhood- and community-based testing and vaccination locations in communities of color across Michigan that were hardest hit by the pandemic.
The creation of specific isolation infrastructure for micro farm workers, and special partnerships with our tribal nations that serve our indigenous people. We flattened those disparities in Michigan. Just so in a way that was testly validated by the Duke University.
The work is ongoing because there’s still work we have to do.
And, we’ve already seen folks at every level of government stepping up. Just in the Fall of last year, I was proud to announce alongside our United States Senator Debbie Stabenow. The opening of 33 community behavioral health clinics across Michigan, including many in Southeast, Michigan.
BLAC: Lieutenant, with the criminal justice reform and the “Clean Slate” bill, do you have a specific example of how that has been a success?
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: We enacted legislation that restored people’s drivers licenses. I co-chaired a task force on jail and pretrial incarceration with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Bridget McCormack. We sought to find ways to safely reduce jail remissions in the jail population. But before we did that, we had to actually get an answer to the questions of who’s in jail, for how long, and why. Questions that have never been answered, initially.
“It’s very difficult to pay a fine if you have to go to work to earn money and you can’t drive, because you do not have a license or because you’re in jail.”
We assessed 83 counties and 81 county jail systems with which none of the data systems communicated with one another. We partnered with The Pew Charitable Trusts to do that research.
And, the research found that more than half were in jail because of fines related to suspended driver’s licenses. Many of those had their driver’s licenses suspended for things that had nothing to do with their driving record or how they drive.
BLAC: The Great Resignation. We saw a number of people who have said, “I’m done” and have left their jobs. There seems to be a gap between the jobs that are available and the people who actually fill those jobs. Can you talk about the sort of jobs training programs that you guys have put in place to bridge that gap?
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: We looked at two sides of the equation. One is making sure there are supports for small businesses to stay afloat. Secondly, we are enabling people to have clear and direct access to the training that will position them for the job they want.
WHAT’S NEW IN GOV. WHITMER’S ADMINISTRATION, ACCORDING TO LT. GOV. GILCHRIST
- Expected proposal of historic investments in mental and behavioral health supporters being available to young people within their school buildings
- Proposal initiated granting $2,000 bonuses to childcare professionals for the first two years of employment. If a teacher stays in their current role with the district over the next four years, they will have an opportunity for $11,000 total in bonuses
- Increased funding per student per year in Benton Harbor by $1,499, Detroit by $1,574, Flint by $2,074, Kalamazoo by $1,229, and Lansing by $1,449
- Gave every school district the same per-pupil funding. The dollars will go to newer textbooks, better gym equipment, and smaller class sizes — things to improve every student’s in-school experience
- Expanded low or no-cost childcare to 105,000 more kids in the 2022 budget
- Prioritized equity in education by dedicating more dollars to at-risk, English language learners, and special education students in all of her budgets (’20, ’21, and ’22)
- Tripled the number of literacy coaches in schools to help every child read by third grade. Expanded access to free preschool for 22,000 more four-year-olds, including 7,000 children in Wayne County, through the high-quality, homegrown Great Start Readiness Program
- Signed a record-setting $1.4 billion investment in federal childcare funding to keep your local childcare provider open and expanded access to low or no-cost childcare for working families earning less than $49,000 a year
- Proposed a record $1.4 billion investment in federal childcare funding to keep local childcare providers open and to expand access to low or no-cost childcare for working families earning less than $53,000 for a family of four
- Settled lawsuits reaffirming every kid’s constitutional right to literacy
Diversity in State Government and Racial Equality
- Appointed more than 338 Black Michiganders to boards, commissions, and full-time positions. Sixty percent of Whitmer appointees are women or people of color
- Appointed 12 Black Michiganders to the bench out of 41 judicial appointments
- Proposal of The Small Business Restart Program as part of our Michigan New Economy Initiative. The program provides specific resources for the smallest businesses in our communities, including micro businesses that have fewer than nine employees.
Health and COVID-19: Racial Disparities Task Force
- Established the Racial Disparities Task Force and made “lasting structural change” in addressing racial disparities associated with COVID-19, according to a study by Duke University
- Reduced new COVID-19 cases reported from 176 per million Black Michiganders at the onset of pandemic to 59 per million by the Fall of 2020. Brought down the number of probable COVID-19 deaths reported for Black citizens from 21.7 per day to one
- Declared racism a public health crisis and required all medical professionals to undergo unconscious-bias training to improve healthcare equity and target disparities
- Launched the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies initiative to reduce disproportionate racial infant mortality and ensure moms have the support they need for healthy pregnancies
- Laid out plans to reduce health disparities by using community navigators to improve access to health coverage, cover the cost of Sickle Cell Disease treatment for all Michiganders, and set up the Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Office in the Dept. of Health and Human Services
Health and COVID-19: Targeted Interventions
- One is we are providing more incentives for more people to become mental health professionals by changing, and frankly upgrading the state’s student loan repayment program for those seeking degrees in mental health support professions
- Proposing the building of modern mental health, psychiatric medical complex in Southeastern Michigan
Criminal Justice Reform
- Signed “Clean Slate” bills to make hundreds of thousands of Michiganders eligible to have their records expunged, expanding their opportunities for jobs and housing and invested millions of dollars to assist returning citizens with expungement.
- Over 80,000 more Detroiters are now eligible to have past mistakes removed from their record and get a chance at a new start
- Signed bill to seal juvenile court records from public view and create a process to automatically expunge records for those who do not commit future offenses
- Signed “Raise the Age” bills to ensure anyone under 18 years old will be treated as a minor in juvenile court and receive the rehabilitation services that are offered in the juvenile justice system to reduce repeat offenses
- Launched two task forces to reduce the disparity of Black Michiganders in jail and disparities in length of stay
- Created the Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration to review jail and court data to expand alternatives to jail, safely reduce jail admissions and length of stay, and improve the effectiveness of the front end of Michigan’s justice system
- Created the Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform to analyze Michigan’s juvenile justice system and recommend proven practices and strategies for reform
Jobs and Training
- Established and fully funded programs to provide hundreds of thousands of Michiganders tuition-free higher education or skills training that leads to a high- skill, good-paying job.
- Established Michigan Reconnect, a program that pays tuition of Michiganders 25 and up to pursue an associate degree or earn a skills certificate in high- demand careers.
- Created Futures for Frontliners, providing a tuition-free path to postsecondary education or skills training for Michiganders who served on the frontlines of the pandemic.
Infrastructure Focus: Roads, Bridges, and Housing
- Started the first 21 highway projects under the $3.5 billion Rebuilding Michigan plan without a tax increase at the pump. The projects support 22,800 jobs.
- Spent $73 million of the federal highway funds at minority and women-owned businesses, $10 million with Black-owned businesses.
- Selected a Black, woman-owned firm to oversee bonding.
- Invested $196 million to repair or replace 100 local bridges in serious or critical condition, creating 2,500 jobs. Proposed $300 million to repair or replace additional 120 local bridges.
- Proposed a $100 million investment to expand access to affordable, attainable housing, help close equity gaps, and support the development of vibrant communities in urban areas.
- Passed historic, bipartisan legislation to put money back in people’s pockets by bringing down the cost of car insurance.
Infrastructure Focus: Water
- Launched MI Clean Water, a $1 billion plan to upgrade water infrastructure. Taken together, these investments would support 15,000 jobs. Invested additional $2 billion to upgrade drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater facilities across the state, supporting 30,000 jobs.
- Proposed Filter First, a $55 million investment in K-12 schools to ensure that students and staff have access to safe drinking water and $40 million to address in-home water challenges.
- Launched the largest investment in water assistance, starting with a Detroit program. Protected the strongest Lead and Copper Rule for drinking water in the country.