Essential credit union employees in Mich. eligible for education perks

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Michigan credit union employees who stayed on the job as essential workers during the state’s stay-at-home order could be eligible for tuition-free educational opportunities as part of a new program Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

The program, Futures for Frontliners, is believed to be the first of its kind and offers free paths to college or technical training for workers who do not have a college degree. A press release from the governor’s office specifically refers to the workers at hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores and more, but many financial institution employees could be eligible since some banks and credit unions in the state kept staff on-site to assist members when branches were closed to regular traffic and open by appointment only.

“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,” Whitmer said in a statement, adding: “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.”

Among the requirements for qualification, applicants must have worked at least half-time during 11 of the 13 weeks from April 1 through June 30, with the majority of that work done in-person at a credit union, according to the Michigan Credit Union League.

“Many Michigan credit union members relied on frontline workers to access essential financial services during the state’s pandemic-related shutdown," MCUL Chief Executaive Dave Adams said in a press release. "It’s great to see the governor recognize these workers across ours and many other industries with an opportunity to pursue personal and career dreams through free tuition.”

The governor’s press release said the initiative is part of a push to increase the number of working-age adults in the state with a technical or college degree from 45% to 60% by the end of this decade. Michigan has struggled with brain drain for years, as young adults finish high school or college and leave for jobs in other states. In 2013, the league and Michigan Credit Union Foundation worked with then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s office to craft a skilled trades guidebook to help promote good-paying jobs in-state that required only an associate’s degree or certification.

The Michigan program stands in contrast to events this summer in Pennsylvania, where workers at financial institutions were blocked from a government program that provided hazard pay for essential employees. Patrick Conway, president and CEO of CrossState Credit Union Association, and Kevin Shivers, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers, called that decision an “extreme disappointment.”

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