The Rapidian

COVID-19 in Grand Rapids: Wednesday, April 29 updates

City of Grand Rapids announces $13 million in budget cuts and partial hiring freeze in response to pandemic, Gov. Whitmer announces "Futures for Frontliners" education program and "Child Care Relief Fund," and more statements issued April 27-29.
W. Leonard St. in Grand Rapids, MI.

W. Leonard St. in Grand Rapids, MI. /John Holkeboer

Kent County’s mid-week COVID-19 numbers stand at 1,395 cases and 33 deaths, with recovery data still forthcoming. Statewide, there are 40,399 cases, 3,670 deaths, and 8,352 recoveries. These numbers, reported by the State of Michigan, are as of April 29.

Shared in this April 29 update are continued COVID-19 responses relevant to West Michiganders from the City of Grand Rapids, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Department of Treasury, and Returning the Favor.


City of Grand Rapids announces $13 million in budget cuts and partial hiring freeze

The City of Grand Rapids plans to cut at least $13 million from its 2020-2021 fiscal budget and partially freeze hiring due to economic woes from the COVID-19 pandemic, City Manager Mark Washington announced.

In April 27’s City Commission meeting, Washington said additional cuts to its $540 million fiscal plan may happen as the City monitors continued city revenue reductions. The plan runs July 1, 2020, though June 30, 2021.

"We will continue to proactively manage our finances as the impacts become more certain," said Washington. "This could be a $23 million decrease in overall spending when combined with the $13 million in reductions included in the preliminary fiscal plan. What were once solid growth projections now point to equally solid revenue reductions."

The 2020-2021 plan still maintains essential City services, supports investments in equitable outcomes, furthers the ability to implement strategic priorities, and ensures financial stability. The general operating fund portion of the proposed budget is $146,078,885.

"We remain hopeful that stimulus funding from state and federal governments will assist in response and recovery," Washington continued. "We will continue to monitor economic performance after budget adoption and, if the economic realities are different than our initial projections, we will be able to quickly adjust and propose budget amendments."

The partial City hiring freeze Washington implemented encompasses non-essential positions, with exceptions for public safety and critical positions. Reduced employee travel and training are also planned.

To support community members and local businesses in economic recovery from the pandemic, $250,000 for recovery investments is included in the plan.

More details about the City’s 2020-2021 fiscal plan, budget cuts, and recovery investments is available in a statement on the City’s website.


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announces "Futures for Frontliners" education program and "Child Care Relief Fund"

Gov. Whitmer announced more pandemic-related recovery efforts April 29: Launch of a "Futures for Frontliners" program supporting essential workers’ continued education and a $130 million investment to make child care more affordable and accessible for Michigan families.

The Futures for Frontliners (FF) program will provide a tuition-free pathway to college or a technical certificate to essential workers without a college degree. This includes workers in hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores, public safety, delivery supply, and more.

"The Futures for Frontliners program is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to those who have risked their lives on the front lines of this crisis. This program will ensure tuition-free college opportunities and give these dedicated Michiganders an opportunity to earn a technical certificate, associate degree or even a bachelor’s degree," Whitmer said. "I want to assure all of our workers we will never forget those of you who stepped up and sacrificed their own health during this crisis. You’re the reason we’re going to get through this."

Whitmer’s official website says the FF program was inspired by the federal government’s GI Bill, which provided educational opportunities for soldiers returning from World War II.

For the $130 million investment in child care support for Michigan families, Whitmer announced the "Child Care Relief Fund" (CCRF), utilizing this investment.

"Child care providers have been critical partners in helping our state respond to COVID-19, and we are extremely grateful for their service," said Whitmer. "Every child care provider and early educator is important in giving parents some peace of mind while they are delivering essential services to our state at this challenging time."

The CCRF will provide direct, non-competitive grants to child care workers. The grants will ensure child care providers currently serving essential workers remain open, and costs associated with providing care are not passed on to essential workers. They’ll also ensure child care providers stay afloat with the resources they need during the pandemic, and that child care is more affordable to families now and into the economy’s reopening.

Licensed child care centers, family group homes, tribal child care providers, provisional disaster relief child care centers, and subsidized license exempt providers are all eligible for the CCRF grants.

More information about Whitmer’s latest recovery efforts is available in the Press Releases page on her official website.


Michigan Department of Treasury providing student loan assistance

The Michigan Department of Treasury is providing assistance to Michiganders who have student loans guaranteed by the state, it announced April 28.

Collection activities on delinquent Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) student loans made by a financial institution and serviced by the Michigan Guaranty Agency (MGA) will be halted through September 30.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is both a public health emergency and an economic emergency," State Treasurer Rachael Eubanks said. "If you are encountering financial hardship and cannot pay your state-backed student loans, please contact us so we can walk through your options for assistance."

Michigan’s Treasury Department has stopped all wage garnishments and offsets to pay outstanding FFELP student loans serviced by the MGA. Borrowers currently in repayment agreements won’t be penalized if a payment is missed through September 30.

More information about Michigan’s Treasury Department’s student loan assistance during this time is available on its website.


Returning the Favor web series awards local chef $10,000 for donating meals to frontline workers

A Grand Rapids area chef was awarded $10,000 from a pink unicorn for her restaurant’s generosity throughout the pandemic.

The pink unicorn – actually a costume-wearing, long-time patron of the restaurant – was Ed Roehre. Roehre gifted the $10,000 to Chef Jenna Arcidiacono from Amore Trattoria Italiana in Comstock Park.

Recorded and featured on the "Returning the Favor" Facebook web television series on April 27, the $10,000 comes from the series, hosted by Mike Rowe. Rowe is known for hosting shows such as Dirty Jobs and Somebody’s Gotta Do It.

Chef Jenna, known for her pink and glittery fashion, co-owns Amore Trattoria with her husband, Maurizo. Since the temporary closure of Michigan restaurants due to the pandemic, Amore Trattoria has been donating and delivering its home-cooked-style Italian meals to local hospitals, first responders, and assistance agencies at no cost. This is in addition to the restaurant’s carryout services and donation-based fund to help its staff make up lost wages.

"You, Chef Jenna, are our hero. Thank you for doing what you do, for dressing how you dress, wearing what you wear," Rowe imparted to the chef and restaurant owner.

Returning the Favor’s episode featuring Chef Jenna, "The Unicorn Feeding the Front Lines," is available to watch on Facebook Watch.


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