May 28, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Press Conference Transcript May 28
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Thursday, May 28 press conference on COVID-19. Whitmer said Michigan’s budget crisis threatens schools & public safety, and she has asked the federal government for help. Read the full transcript of her news briefing speech here.
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Gretchen Whitmer: (00:01)
Good afternoon. Today is Thursday, May 28th. I of course am joined by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun our Chief Medical Executive, our State Budget Director, Chris Kolbe, Jamie Brown, who is the president of the Michigan Nurses Association, Darryl Galen, who is the assistant training director at the Michigan Laborers’ Training and Apprentice Bond and Gretchen Preston, president of Gretchen’s House Childcare Providers. For the past 12 weeks, we have taken Swift and aggressive action to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. And the good news is it’s working. Everyone in this state has taken this seriously, or the vast majority of us anyway, have taken it very seriously. When you see the maps of the country, every one of us should feel proud about the work that we have done. It has not come without sacrifice. It has been a tough time to be sure, but our cases are declining.
Gretchen Whitmer: (00:55)
We’ve ramped up testing and we’ve secured enough PPE to last our hospitals several weeks. But our work is not over, we must continue to do our part to lower the chance of a second wave and to protect our families. We owe it to the real heroes on the front lines of this crisis health care workers, like the ones that my friend Jamie represents. First responders, childcare workers like Gretchen, grocery store employees, utility workers are people who are on the frontline and are in all of these realms. We owe it to all of them to get this right. I’ve been working around the clock with my partners and state government to protect Michiganders from both the public health and the economic crisis that we have faced because of COVID-19. We have faced truly unprecedented challenges and I know I’ve said that frequently, but it is absolutely a fact that we are all grappling with. Challenges that are going to lead to serious budget implications for the state of Michigan and frankly, every state in the United States.
Gretchen Whitmer: (02:01)
But before even COVID-19 hit Michigan, our general fund was stretched then. The general fund has remained at about $10 billion for the last 20 years. It will take all of us from both sides of the aisle, working together to make sure that we can protect Michigan families and Michigan businesses as we try to move forward. So I want you to see some of the things that we have done over the course of the last 10 weeks. This slide shows the amount we have invested to flatten the curve to save lives and to keep Michiganders safe during this time. It’s hard to see, but I’m going to give you some of the highlights. We’ve spent over $25 million in our hospitals, $22.8 million to direct care workers, $3.4 million in our nursing homes, $5 million to federal qualified health centers, $5 million in community mental health grants, $251 million on PPE to protect our healthcare workers and first responders.
Gretchen Whitmer: (03:03)
This includes everything from hospital gowns to ventilators, to sanitizer, to N95 masks and hospital beds. $101 million for childcare, 8.5 billion paid to Michigan workers through unemployment to help families put food on the table along with the grants and supports to small businesses to help ensure those that have spent a lifetime building their small business can continue to operate once this is over. It’s easy to look at the slide and just see dollar figures, but let’s be very clear, each of those expenditures represents people whose lives and livelihoods have been protected during this uncertain time.
Gretchen Whitmer: (03:49)
COVID-19 is a crisis unlike any we’ve confronted before, but because the vast majority of people in our state have been doing the right thing by staying safer at home, we’ve begun to phase in sectors of our economy construction, manufacturing, retail and more. And if we all continue to keep doing our part, if we don’t let our guard down now and we continue to take this seriously, we will be able to announce more steps forward in the coming days and weeks. But Michigan and States all over our country need our federal government to step up and to help our efforts. We need flexibility and financial support from the federal government to support essential services like healthcare, education, public safety and transportation. During this crisis. Every state, as I said, every state in the nation is confronting a budget crisis that threatens everything from the education of our kids, to our public safety, to the health care that we all so desperately rely on. The nation’s governors, both Democratic and Republican have worked tirelessly to protect our people.
Gretchen Whitmer: (05:05)
On March 23rd, Republican governors wrote a letter to Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Kevin McCarthy requesting direct assistance to the states in the form of block grants. They said, and I quote, “COVID-19 has put an unprecedented burden on state governments. States are spending heavily on the response to the virus at a time when many are at the end of their budget year and revenues are down because of limited economic activity. A block grant to each state would provide the certainty we need to continue providing critical services at a high level when they are needed now more than ever.
Gretchen Whitmer: (05:43)
And governors, Larry Hogan and Andrew Cuomo, the chair and the vice chair of the NGA issued a joint statement in April calling on the federal government to provide assistance to states. Right now, the language in the CARES Act does not allow states the ability to use federal funding for existing items in the budget even if they’ve been affected by loss revenue due to COVID-19. Congress needs to come together soon so that Michigan and every state across our country can account for the COVID impact to our existing budgets. Neither the virus, nor the economic distress stops at state line or party line. We need our partners on both sides of the aisle in Washington to come together and pass a plan to aid States in our recovery.
Gretchen Whitmer: (06:34)
We need them to provide sufficient and flexible aid to mitigate this economic crisis that every one of us is going through. None of us can afford to let this devolve into a partisan issue, COVID-19 does not pick sides. Senate majority leader, Shirky said, “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and go to work to arm wrestle with the federal government when it comes to funding our schools.” Now that’s the enthusiasm I’m looking for in my partners here in Michigan and our partners at the federal government who represent all of us here in Michigan. President Trump called this a war and that’s exactly what it is. So we need to act like it. In world war II, Americans dropped everything, everything they were doing so that they could build planes or tanks. They rationed food and took care of one another. They worked together. They recognized it was a temporary sacrifice. It was until we had beaten the enemy.
Gretchen Whitmer: (07:33)
Our enemy now is not one another. Our enemy is a virus called COVID-19 and we must work together to fight it and to protect Michigan and Michiganders from the economic impact it has caused. Michigan is not alone, states across the country are facing budget challenges due to COVID-19. That’s why my administration has taken a number of actions to mitigate the impact this virus has had on our state budget. I’ve taken a 10% pay cut through the end of the fiscal year. And my executive team and cabinet have taken a voluntary 5% pay cut. State employees have stepped up and they have made sacrifices to be a part of the solution. Their sacrifices yielded over $80 million in gross savings to our state. I’ve also signed an executive order to implement a temporary hiring and discretionary spending freeze. These choices have been hard and they weigh heavily on me every day, but it was the right thing to do in order to ensure that the essential services we provide will continue and to find savings where we can.
Gretchen Whitmer: (08:43)
It is a start, but $80 million in savings is not much when you’re looking at $3 billion problem. I’m hopeful that our partners and the federal government will do their part and work together to provide relief for states like Michigan. Moving forward, these are my budget priorities for Michigan families. I’ve always said that the budget is not just numbers on a spreadsheet it’s a statement of our values. During these unprecedented times, we must work together to ensure resources for our schools, our communities, and our workers. And that means prioritizing funding for school classrooms and literacy programs to help our kids get the skills they need. This is my top priority as we work on the budget and based on his previous statement, I hope and believe the Senate majority leader shares that commitment. It also means funding police and fire protection to protect our local communities.
Gretchen Whitmer: (09:41)
It means continuing to ensure workers are safe when they go back on the job, paying first responders, hazard pay for their critical work on the front lines and extending unemployment benefits to those who will struggle to get back into the workforce. We have also have a responsibility as leaders to protect the health and safety of Michiganders. Moving forward, I will work to prioritize funding for vaccine research at Michigan’s research universities. Continuing to support our rebuilding Michigan bonding program to start fixing state roads right now and keep drivers safe and paid sick and family leave to protect workers on the job. There’s a lot we need to get done beyond the budget. Going forward I’ll push a policy agenda that prioritizes greater access to healthcare and high quality childcare for families. Well support worker retraining through the futures for front liners program to provide opportunities to our frontline heroes, the frontline of this pandemic.
Gretchen Whitmer: (10:47)
This program will offer tuition free college opportunities for the people who have risked their own health to take care of everyone else. It will help more workers acquire technical certificates, associate degrees at community colleges and potentially bachelor’s degrees at our universities once this crisis is over. A return to school plan that actually prioritizes the safety of our kids and equity in our classrooms. And we must support the small businesses that have been impacted by this virus. That means helping to implement changes they need to make in order to keep our workplaces safe. Means providing grants to small businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and enhancing consumer protections that protect consumers’ pocketbooks and public health.
Gretchen Whitmer: (11:38)
My guests here today will talk about the importance of these priorities for Michigan families. Like high quality childcare, our childcare workers are some of the heroes on the front lines of this pandemic. People that often are overlooked. And yet they’re working hard on our behalf because they’re helping the frontline go to work with confidence their kids are going to be okay. Darrell will speak in a moment on the importance of getting back to work on rebuilding Michigan plan to ensure everyone can drive to work and drop their kids off safely.
Gretchen Whitmer: (12:13)
Over the past 12 weeks, I’ve dedicated all of my attention to protecting Michiganders from the spread of COVID-19. Now is the time to work hard to ensure support for our working families is in the state budget. I want to be clear, there are no easy solutions here. There will be hard choices, but I’m eager to work with the legislature to advocate for the support that we need from the federal government. I know we have shared priorities when it comes to protecting the people of our state and the vast majority of these issues are not partisan in nature. They’re crucial to ensure important services for everyone in this state.
Gretchen Whitmer: (12:54)
I’m ready to work with everyone who wants to help fix problems. We’ve got to do this right. So I’m hoping that president Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell will do the right thing and provide States like Michigan with the budget supports we need to protect our families. We can’t do it on our own, we need a partner in the federal government. This is a crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen. I know I’ve said that many times but the enormity of this is substantial. I’m hopeful that our federal partners across the aisle in Washington, DC, will take action to give us the support that Michigan and all States in our country need right now. It’s on all of us to work together and to get it done. And with that, I’ll ask Dr. Joneigh to come and address you.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (13:50)
Thank you, governor. Today we announced 56,014 cases of COVID-19 in the state and 5,372 deaths. We continue to see reductions in new-
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (14:03)
… And 72 deaths. We continue to see reductions in new cases, in all regions across the state. However, there is variability in how the disease is spreading regionally. The northern lower peninsula and the upper peninsula continue to see low rates of cases and the rate of cases remains relatively unchanged.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (14:20)
Southeast Michigan has seen reductions in cases for seven weeks, it is down to about 20 cases per million people per day. Most areas of the state have reached or almost reached this milestone as well. Western Michigan has seen reductions in case rates for the past week and the local health departments in that area of the state are diligently working to track any new cases and outbreaks.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (14:45)
If positive trends continue, we will be able to continue moving forward with the next phases of the MI Safe Start Plan. I encourage people to go to our new dashboard that was announced this week, www.mistartmap. info to understand how the disease trend and risk level looks in your area.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (15:08)
But I want to caution people moving forward with reopening the economy does not mean that the risk of the disease has gone away. We still need everyone to do their part of social distancing, wearing a mask, cleaning frequently touched surfaces often, and hand-washing. If we do not, this disease still has the ability to spread and to kill many more people. So we can not let down our guard.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (15:36)
As we slowly reopened the economy, we also continue to work to expand testing. We know that testing is critical to our ability to be able to understand how prevalent this disease is across the state. During the last week, the average number of diagnostic tests per day was about 14,400, an increase of 700 tests per day compared to the previous week.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (16:02)
We are nearing the state’s goal of 15,000 diagnostic tests per day and are looking forward to continuing to expansion beyond that number. We have seen some key successes in recent weeks, working in close partnership with the Michigan National Guard and our local health departments. The National Guard has tested over 44,000 individuals in this state this month and has distributed an additional 19,000 testing kits to our partners across the state. Testing efforts have included individuals in prison, many of the county jails and a rapidly expanding number of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and community testing sites. We’re taking further steps to expand testing throughout Michigan communities, particularly in underserved, urban and rural areas.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (16:52)
The governor’s executive order announced on Tuesday, allowed testing without a doctor’s order. And the Michigan of health and human services has expanded testing eligibility criteria to include a very broad range of people. The overwhelming majority of Michiganders can now get a test. All you have to do is call our hotline at 1-888-535-6136 or visit our website, michigan.gov/coronavirustest to find a testing site nearest you. We know that testing is just one component of containing this disease. We also have to quickly reach out to individuals who test positive and reach out to their contacts so that anyone who may be infectious is appropriately isolated from others. We are aggressively ramping up this effort called contact tracing.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (17:50)
By the end of this week, the state will have trained more than 500 volunteers to conduct contact tracing through our new centralized platform. We also stand ready to hire additional staff to support the efforts of our local health departments. Over the past month in partnership with local health departments, we have doubled the speed at which we are contacting COVID-19 positive individuals to conduct case investigation interviews.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (18:17)
We’ve also implemented a new centralized contact tracing platform that reaches out to every known contact of a positive case within 24 hours. We’re making great strides, but for this very important contact tracing effort to work, we need the help of the general public. If someone calls from the state or local health department, please answer the phone. It is so important that we talk to you.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (18:42)
Please know that we are not monitoring your movements. We won’t ask you for your social security number. We won’t ask you for your credit card. We’re simply trying to alert you that you’ve had close contact with someone with COVID-19. If you test positive for COVID-19, it’s also critically important that you tell the health department staff about your personal contacts.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (19:05)
Some people have been hesitant to share this information with us, but if you do not do so, we can not notify other people of the risk and more people could get seriously ill or even die. And if a health department staff person tells you to self-quarantine, even if you have not tested positive, please take it seriously. We know that people can spread this disease to other people, even without having any symptoms. So staying home, if you have been exposed is critical to stopping the spread of this virus.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (19:37)
I remain thankful that so many of our citizens are adhering to social distancing measures and wearing masks. This has truly made a difference. Testing and contact tracing are making a difference as well, but we need everyone to continue to do their part through our combined efforts. I know that we can prevail against COVID-19 in Michigan. And with that, I will turn it over to State Budget Director, Chris Kolb.
Chris Kolb: (20:12)
Thank you. Two weeks ago, we reached agreement on economic and revenue figures at the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference. Facing $6.2 billion loss of revenue over the remaining of this year and next is not news that any state budget director wants to hear. But we knew that the COVID-19 would create tremendous challenges for the budget, which is exactly why we need help from Washington just like every other state.
Chris Kolb: (20:44)
Given the uncertainty in the economy created by COVID-19, we now have another Revenue Estimating Conference planned for this summer. Another couple months of tax collections and economic data will give us additional information needed to finalize the FYI 21 budget. We know the legislature will have its own ideas on how to address these budget challenges and I’m ready to work with them.
Chris Kolb: (21:12)
But with a general fund that has been flat for more than 20 years, there’s very little left to cut from state government without impacting essential and critical services and programs. Over 80% of the state general fund and school aid fund support schools, local communities, public safety and healthcare.
Chris Kolb: (21:34)
I believe that our legislative leaders agree that this is an unprecedented challenge unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime, we will need to work together and find common ground to solve the budget challenges in front of us. I know that there is a statute that calls for a July 1st budget submission from the legislature. But I also know that we need information from our next Revenue Estimating Conference and additional information from the federal government before we can put together a plan that makes sense, so the budget timeline is going to have to be different.
Chris Kolb: (22:10)
Even before COVID-19 the spending pressures on the general fund were significant. Those pressures include a growing transportation earmark out of the personal income tax and inflationary growth in Medicaid costs. Right now, the language in the CARES Act does not allow states the ability to use federal dollars for existing items in the budget that are affected by the loss of revenue.
Chris Kolb: (22:36)
Congress must come together so Michigan and all of the States across this country can account for the COVID impact to our existing budgets. The state budget office is already starting a comprehensive review of everything in the state budget, working with departments and agencies on various scenarios. We are forced to take a hard look at everything, but the fact of the matter is department budgets are already skinny and there’s simply no way to cut our way out of this just by looking at state budgets.
Chris Kolb: (23:11)
Three-fourths of discretionary state spending goes out to other entities. As I said, like schools, local governments, healthcare providers. The state’s rainy day fund currently stands at just over $1.2 billion. Even if we used every single penny in that fund, we won’t be able to solve or close our budget problem.
Chris Kolb: (23:33)
A broader solution is needed and Congress must come together to provide it. Without more funding and more flexibility and existing federal funds, state and local governments will be unable to provide existing critical support for education, public safety and healthcare.
Chris Kolb: (23:51)
So let me close by saying that Michigan is a well-managed state with a good credit rating and a healthy rainy day fund. Our revenue shortfall is a direct result of COVID-19 and the economic toil it has taken. This is a 50 state problem. This is as bad if not worse than the great recession. And the only way we made it through that recession was with direct support from the federal government. We need them to step up again now.
Jamie Brown: (24:32)
My name is Jamie Brown. I am a registered nurse in Kalamazoo and President of the Michigan Nurses Association. I am a critical care nurse who works directly with COVID-19 patients. So I know firsthand the terrible impact it has had. One of my cases as a nurse in my 16 years was a man in his 50s that passed away from COVID-19 with only me at his bedside, instead of his family.
Jamie Brown: (25:02)
His wife was also in the intensive care unit and luckily she has survived. There are kinds of tragedy still happening every day in our state. Nurses have been on the frontline of this pandemic every step of the way, working to protect our patients and our communities while also trying to protect ourselves.
Jamie Brown: (25:24)
Like some of my colleagues, I have sent my children away to keep them safe. On behalf of nurses across Michigan, I want to thank Governor Whitmer for her leadership. She has always put health and safety first throughout this challenging time. Without her actions, there would have been more illnesses and more deaths in our state. We can not forget the tremendous cost of human life of this virus.
Jamie Brown: (25:51)
The economic cost of this has deeply affected people’s lives as well. We see our patients that families all across Michigan are hurting, whether it is unemployment, high medical bills or struggling to keep a small business alive. Layoffs and under employment are hitting all segments of Michigan, including nurses and other healthcare workers.
Jamie Brown: (26:15)
We have to use every resource to help working families recover from the economic damage that has hit our state. Anyone can look at the numbers and realize the state alone cannot fix this. We need the federal government to provide the support. Michigan needs to get back on our feet. There is hope of putting people’s needs first if the federal government will give Michigan the financial support we need, that includes funding for our healthcare system with the understanding that the government money will go to supporting the frontline workers who are our first line of defense.
Jamie Brown: (26:56)
We need flexibility in that federal funding so we can invest in our own Michigan priorities. We need our leaders to work together to find solutions. The Michigan Nurses Association is eager to continue partnering with the governor as our state moves forward together.
Darryl Gallant: (27:29)
Good afternoon. I’m Darryl Gallant. I’m the Training Director at Michigan Laborers Training & Apprenticeship Institute for the training arm for the Laborers Union. We have an organization of 13,000 members in the state of Michigan, and we work hard at rebuilding this state every day.
Darryl Gallant: (27:44)
I spent the first half of my career in infrastructure repair and heavy highway work. And the second half of my career I spent at the training center basically teaching what now as young adults and how to work productively and safe in construction. Currently, I help manage four training sites …
Darryl Gallant: (28:03)
Currently I help manage four training sites in the state of Michigan and we train between four and 5,000 students every year. Prior to this pandemic, most of our training took place in a traditional classroom setting. So 15, 20 students in a class, sitting literally a foot or two apart from each other.
Darryl Gallant: (28:21)
We know now, currently that we can’t do it that way. So then that was our challenging, what do we do? Can good come from bad? S we had to look at situation. The pandemic forced us to think about alternative teaching methods. Shortly after shutting down the training centers, two of our big signatory contractors called me. They said they were wondering how to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak and what they’re going to do. We needed to adapt quick. We needed to learn how to train from a distance we needed to teach our contractors what they needed to know how to clean and disinfect hazardous areas and what protocols they needed to follow to maintain a safe workplace.
Darryl Gallant: (29:09)
So we took action. We learned to use the different virtual classrooms like Zoom and then me and my coworkers, we learned online training. So really quickly, we went out and purchased the LMS system and we’d built five classes because we were like, we’re having a conversation. Well, what do they need? What do our contractors need to work during the current pandemic?
Darryl Gallant: (29:31)
So we put together a COVID-19 awareness for construction class and infectious disease control class, a bloodborne pathogen class, and a hazardous communication class. So then our contractors were able to go online, still maintaining social distance and take those classes. And those five classes provided the foundation for our workers to be able to go out clean, disinfect and work safely in construction in a productive manner.
Darryl Gallant: (29:59)
The governor’s right. This call to the federal government to help support us during the crisis is important. We need to have the resources to repair our crumbling infrastructure. Nowhere was it more evident than the surrounding flooding in the Tittabawassee River. So I spent my Memorial Day weekend up in the village of Sanford, not just me. We had 58 different… I had coworkers, contractor partners, apprentices and volunteers out there.
Darryl Gallant: (30:26)
We removed and hauled off all the damaged property and debris from the failure of the dams and that’s infrastructure gone bad. But that disaster that resulted from the flood is only a small part of our infrastructure problem. Our union is proud. We’ve always stepped up in times of need to help our community, but we would much rather be working to fix our current infrastructure than spending time cleaning up messes after that infrastructure fails. I really do. I struggle. I have trouble understanding why we just can’t try and come to an agreement on the age of our infrastructure and what we can all do to fix the problem.
Darryl Gallant: (31:05)
I think we could and we have learned from the terrible experience that happened in Flint with the water lines. We know the lead lines need to be replaced. Our roads and bridges have a life expectancy and many of them are past their expiration date, riddled with potholes. But a lot of us take infrastructure for granted. A lot of people say out of sight, out of mind. The Flint crisis reminded us, we don’t really think about water lines. They’re underground. We don’t see them. We turn on a faucet. We get a drink. It’s not that big a deal.
Darryl Gallant: (31:38)
But investing in infrastructure has always been a bipartisan issue. Our union has been proud to support leaders on both sides of the aisle that we like to support people that understand that these investments create jobs and those jobs are good for business.
Darryl Gallant: (31:54)
But fixing infrastructure takes a skilled workforce. Updating our infrastructure creates jobs that pair our residents are living wage, a decent career for the future. We do need help from the federal government to fix our infrastructure and to put people back to work.
Darryl Gallant: (32:12)
Every winter, I get really crazy busy at the training center. We always have a new generation, Gen Y and Gen Z pouring in the training center and they’re excited about learning how to fix our infrastructure and we get disappointed because the funding seems to go away and all these young people that we trained to go to work, the funding doesn’t always materialize and then they drift back to do what they were currently doing. So it kind of breaks my heart.
Darryl Gallant: (32:41)
But we’re excited to work with governor and I’m excited to work with both political parties. We want to hammer out a productive solution to give hardworking Michiganders an opportunity for a career in skilled trades. We know that we can provide a decent wage, decent healthcare and a pension where they can retire with dignity while we’re rebuilding Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure and I’d like to thank the governor for the opportunity to share my thoughts today on fixing the great state of Michigan. Thank you.
Speaker 4: (33:12)
Gretchen Preston: (33:24)
Good afternoon. It is afternoon. I’d like to thank governor Whitmer and Michelle Richard for inviting me to Lansing today. I’m Gretchen Preston, president and owner of Gretchen’s House Childcare Centers. I have 10 childcare centers in Michigan, seven of which are in Ann Arbor where I live.
Gretchen Preston: (33:46)
I opened my first childcare center in 1982 and early childhood education has been my personal life’s work for 38 years. On March 15th, 2020, we closed all of our centers. We plan to reopen on June 15th, three months is a long time to be away from our families. For a child, it seems like forever. My staff of 260 teachers and directors have worked every day to keep in communication with our children and their families by sending videos of teachers telling stories or singing favorite songs.
Gretchen Preston: (34:33)
Franny, one of our preschool teachers created a video with a ukulele story time and she sent this to her class. That video was opened 120 times. So it’s clear that these relationships are strong and vital.
Gretchen Preston: (34:55)
While we had to have most of our staff go on unemployment for the last six weeks, our administrative team has spent that time helping our staff manage the unemployment system, but also checking out a lot of webinars put out by the CDC, by the state of Michigan and by our early childhood organizations to learn how we can protect our families and ourselves physically and emotionally when we all come back to work. This is new territory for us. We are all eager to re-engage with our families and each other. Gretchen’s House and me personally, very grateful to the funding sources that have been made available to us, the Payroll Protection Program and especially the Michigan Childcare Relief Fund are lifesavers. This support is critical.
Gretchen Preston: (35:55)
I celebrate our leaders in Washington and Lansing for working together to do the right thing. We did hold our breath for a little while. Learning how to get along with others and cooperate is a skill that we work on every day with children. It’s gratifying when we see our legislators modeling that behavior that children are watching. So keep it up.
Gretchen Preston: (36:22)
Governor Whitmer is setting a great example for us right now with her strong and clear leadership in this really difficult time.
Gretchen Preston: (36:31)
I look forward to seeing the changes that can happen in our state government to make childcare more accessible, affordable, and high quality. The monthly childcare bill is often the biggest one in a family’s budget. Amazing.
Gretchen Preston: (36:51)
Our early childhood system needs the same support that our public schools receive and our federal government needs to give the state similar kind of support that we know has to happen. I would like to think of our government as our helpers at this time. Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people willing to help.'”
Gretchen Whitmer: (37:37)
Well, we started with the Gretchen and we close with the Gretchen. Gretchen, thank you so much. Darryl. Jamie, appreciate it. Director Cole then of course, Doctor Jay. I particularly appreciate closing with a quote from Mr. Rogers. I love that.
Gretchen Whitmer: (37:51)
With that, I think we should open it up for a few questions.
Gretchen Preston: (37:58)
Governor, a lot of people are asking why there hasn’t been a ban on COVID-19 patients in nursing homes. Can you comment on that?
Gretchen Whitmer: (38:08)
So clearly, I’m going to hand the majority of answering this question to Doctor Jay. Obviously we, like states across the country and other countries across the world, have been learning an incredible amount about COVID-19 that being a novel virus. The amount that we’ve learned just in the last eight weeks is dramatically different from what we knew as we were watching the cases exponentially rise.
Gretchen Whitmer: (38:33)
With that, obviously the clear indication is that our older people are more susceptible and in congregate care facilities that is exacerbated and because of that, we have taken actions to protect people in nursing homes, to articulate early on that we wouldn’t have visitors anymore, that it was going to be monitored very closely. We took a lot of actions early on. Clearly COVID patients being discharged from a hospital, we wanted to make sure that they had a place to go. And so, as we have tried to address this so that we kept people safe but also give them a place to return to, we’ve had to strike a balance here and I think as we continue to learn, we continue to improve and with that, I’ll hand it over to Doctor Jay to talk a little bit more about our policies.
Doctor Jay: (39:29)
Yes. It’s been incredibly disheartening to see the number of nursing home residents who have gotten sick. Director Gordon, the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services spoke yesterday about our cases being 9% of cases and at least 23% of our deaths and we believe that is an under count.
Doctor Jay: (39:47)
So what we’ve done is made sure that our nursing facilities, they only accept patients if they have the appropriate PPE, or if they’ve been able to create a dedicated unit. We still have to do more work to get this right, to make sure that our nursing home residents have someplace safe to go and we continue to work on that.
Speaker 5: (40:10)
Governor, you outlined your budget priorities today. By laying these out, do you mean to say that you will not accept cuts in any of these areas?
Gretchen Whitmer: (40:20)
No. What I’ve said is these are the priorities that I have, that I want to make sure that we protect. Clearly our ability to do that though, is dependent on Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump getting this fourth supplemental done. I’m not saying it has to look exactly like what Speaker Pelosi authored, although if it did, that would be great. But we need to find some common ground here because states like Michigan, all across this country, we’re grappling with the same things and we know that if we have to sustain cuts because the federal government doesn’t help us, that they are going to hit critical things that maybe are even more important in a pandemic like public safety, public health, public education and that’s what we want to avoid.
Speaker 5: (41:03)
A quick follow up on your top priority education funding. Are per pupil funding cuts avoidable even without federal help?
Gretchen Whitmer: (41:11)
Well, I think that they are, but it’s going to be absolutely essential that the legislature will be a partner in avoiding that.
Gretchen Whitmer: (41:21)
First and foremost though, I mean the bottom line really is that we need additional flexibility and resources from the federal government. We have a $3 billion crisis and it is because of COVID-19. We’re a well managed state but we are operating with the same kind of a general fund that we had for the last 20 years and we have unique needs that we have to meet on behalf of our kids and that’s precisely why it is my hope that the federal government will be an ally to states all across this country and help us make sure that we can avoid these potential tough decisions.
Speaker 6: (41:59)
Governor, you indicated a few weeks ago that you would wait until the end of the month to see if Congress act-
Speaker 7: (42:03)
… you stated a few weeks ago that you would wait until the end of the month to see if Congress acted on providing additional aid to the state, to backfill those budget holes that we’re going to be facing. What’s the time period where you have to start making those cuts, if we don’t receive federal aid, we’re almost at the end of the month.
Gretchen Whitmer: (42:19)
That’s my understanding that they are poised to take some action in the next couple of weeks. That’s what we’re hearing. Of course, no one anticipated that they would take a 10 day vacation associated with Memorial Day. So right now they’re not in session and that’s precisely why I think it’s incumbent on all of us to keep our pressure, encouragement, whatever you want to call it, support for Congress to take these actions, to support the States. We saw the House convene and take quick action. It is now in the ball… The ball is in the court of the United States Senate. I am hopeful that my Republican friends from over in the Capitol are reaching out to their counterparts at the national level and encouraging movement. I’ve had a number of conversations that lead me to believe we may see something in the next couple of weeks, but until they act, it’s still going to be dicey.
Speaker 7: (43:15)
So is it fair to say that you’ll wait a couple of weeks before moving forward on making reductions and cuts?
Gretchen Whitmer: (43:21)
Well, what we’re hoping is that the feds step up and give us the assistance. We need flexibility. I had described the exact problem with the CARES Act dollars that we are precluded from using them to address the holes that have been created because of COVID-19. We need flexibility and we need additional resources.
Speaker 8: (43:43)
If the federal government doesn’t provide extra assistance, what kind of cuts are we facing to our schools, even with the schools being your top priority. We’ve heard the numbers from lawmakers 800 to 2000 per student. What are you seeing right now, as you look at the numbers?
Gretchen Whitmer: (43:57)
Yeah. I’m not sure where the legislators have gotten some of those numbers, but here’s what I do know. There are a number of different ways that we could go about making sure that there’s not a proration. It is going to take working together to do that. The best way to ensure that that doesn’t happen is for the United States Senate and the President to get this fourth supplemental done so that our schools and our families don’t have to worry about whether or not the resources are going to be there to finish out the school year.
Speaker 9: (44:32)
Governor, with the Secretary of State offices reopening, using kind of the same logic, why not consider opening up unemployment insurance lobbies, particularly to help with people who have not been able to get their claims filed yet?
Gretchen Whitmer: (44:46)
Yeah. I appreciate that question. I think that’s as we look to offices, we are going to move in concert with what we’re able to feel comfortable with, with the general public. The Secretary of State has made a determination in those offices. I know that they’ve got strict protocols and that she feels comfortable to do that. At this point in time, I think it is most prudent for us to continue to watch the data and to move when we believe that it is safe for the general public and the private sector to as well.
Speaker 7: (45:24)
In an email, a health department official said that your office gave the green light on the contract tracing agreement with Coal House, that you later canceled. And another email showed that your communications Director was aware of the vendor before the contract was signed. Who else in your office knew, and when did you know?
Gretchen Whitmer: (45:44)
I told you that when I found out about the contract, I told them to cancel it. And I found out about it after it had been entered into by the department. It did not go through the usual process, and that is a problem that we have fixed. With regard to my Communications Director, he’s my Communications Director. He’s an excellent Communications Director, but he is not a person that signs off on state contracts. So any interpretation from someone at the department that implied that that was a part of his role was absolutely incorrect.
Speaker 7: (46:17)
And was there anybody else in your office who was aware?
Gretchen Whitmer: (46:21)
I can’t tell you. I can tell you that I did not know that this contract had been entered into by the department. And as soon as it became known to me, I told them to cancel it, and they did.
Speaker 8: (46:35)
What’s your reaction to the Safe Salons for Michigan Coalition Plan that they submitted as they look for coming up with a plan to reopen and saying, “Hey, if we do this, can we open?”
Gretchen Whitmer: (46:46)
I’m grateful that these small business owners have come together to be a part of the solution. That is what we need now more than ever. I want more than anybody to keep turning the knob and get back into opening up, re-engaging all of these different sectors of the economy. Anyone who implies that this is something that I don’t want just can’t even speak with certainty because this has been really hard on our state budget. And this has been hard on our people. This has been hard on our family budgets. It has been a stressful time and I’m as worried as anybody about our economy, but I know that our economy will not be strong if we don’t get the public health side strong as well. And that’s why we’ve got to keep following the science.
Gretchen Whitmer: (47:42)
I am happy that this group of leaders came together to promulgate what they think are best practices. There’s certainly something that we will examine and build into our plan, where it makes sense as we reengage and just know that as people keep doing their part, wearing their masks, staying home, knowing that being home is safer. It’s okay to go out, but be smart when you do. Wear your mask, stay away from others. The more we do this, the more likely and sooner we can take that next step.
Gretchen Whitmer: (48:16)
And that’s what every single one of us I think wants. I am incredibly proud of our state. When I look at how we rank compared to other States in this country, we have pushed that curve down. We have saved thousands of lives in Michigan. We have made it more likely that we can keep turning this dial and re-engage, which means it’s a shorter economic pain. I’m not minimizing the anxiety that people are confronting. But the fact of the matter is we’ve got to keep doing the next right thing, and I’d be happy to work with this group to make sure that their expertise is incorporated in whatever protocols that we promulgate.
Speaker 9: (49:01)
Governor, have you given any thought on how to repair your relationship with the Senate Majority Leader?
Gretchen Whitmer: (49:07)
So, I was very distressed to see his comments on the Senate floor yesterday, to be honest. Not only were they just wildly inaccurate, that was incredibly inappropriate too. He has my phone number and could have called me if he had a question about the veracity of any of the statements or actions that I have taken, or my staff, or even if he had simply listened to his own staff, he would have known that what he said was totally inaccurate. We have serious issues to confront and to be successful, requires every one of us to stop politicizing what’s going on and to focus on getting this right.
Gretchen Whitmer: (49:52)
I really believe what Michelle Obama said which is, “When they go low, we go high.” And so I’m not going to go allegation for allegation. He called me names earlier on and you know what I did, I sent him a cake, that’s what going high looks like. I’m going to keep doing that in hopes that eventually his emotions will stop getting the better of him, and he’ll come back to the table and start to work with me to really make sure that we’ve got a great agenda that supports the economic rebound we all want to see.
Speaker 10: (50:20)
Governor, last question.
Gretchen Whitmer: (50:20)
Speaker 7: (50:24)
Governor Snyder named two outsiders to a task force to look into what happened in Flint. Why not do the same with the Eatonville Dam situation? Doesn’t Eagle have an inherent conflict in investigating itself?
Gretchen Whitmer: (50:39)
So a couple of things. Number one, with regard to Flint, I mean, decisions were made to save money that were at the expense of people’s lives. With regard to this dam, it is something that was under federal oversight for incredibly long time. Private ownership that is I think, there’s a lot to be understood about that private ownership and the decisions that were made require a certain level of expertise to really dig in and understand all of the different machinations here. And because of that, we need the experts to be the ones to begin the investigation. Now we certainly are opening it up so that FERC has a role here, so that the Attorney General’s office has a role.
Gretchen Whitmer: (51:21)
We are ensuring that I believe even FEMA may be taking a role in that. This is going to take a certain level of expertise that you can’t just pick another random department to oversee this. It’s got to be done by the experts, and we’ll do everything to make sure that we get an accurate portrayal. A lot of this handover happened of course, before I took office. Certainly a lot of things have happened in the intervening months, but it’s been decades of disinvestment that’s contributed to the crisis that we have in our infrastructure in this state. And I think everyone knows that that’s something that I’ve been passionately trying to address.
Speaker 10: (52:01)
Thank you Governor.
Gretchen Whitmer: (52:03)
All right. Thank you. Are we done? Did you already cut me off? Okay. Before we end, I wanted to acknowledge a couple of nice things. I think it’s really important that we do that. So this was a mask that was made for me by an 11 year old named Kennedy. She sent it to me and I’m grateful and I wore it today. This is a bracelet. It is a rubber band bracelet made by a little boy named Gavin up in Alpina. He sent one to me and to Dr. Jay, because he says, “We all need to band together.” I love that. And some other constituents sent this to me and it is artwork of my dog, Kevin, and it was Dawn and Scott sent that to me. And so I just want people to know, I appreciate you. I appreciate you, even if you don’t agree with me, thank you for everyone. The vast majority of you who are doing your part, you’re making a difference. And I am proud of the work that we have done together. Thank you.