Unemployment Benefits for Thousands in Michigan at Risk

By: Alex Goldsmith Email
By: Alex Goldsmith Email

Last December, Democrats and Republicans in Washington came together at the last minute to extend unemployment benefits by 20 weeks for those who've exhausted the maximum of 79 weeks provided by state and federal benefits.

But Michigan may end up saying 'thanks, but no thanks' to the money.

That's because, although the money has been approved, Michigan's legislature needs to pass legislation that would make the state eligible to receive it.

35,000 jobless Michiganders could see extended unemployment benefits immediately stop on April 2nd if the Legislature fails to act by next Friday. And state agencies say there are more who could see benefits cut off if an extension to the Extended Benefits (EB) program isn't accepted.

"Approximately 150,000 unemployed workers in Michigan could potentially be affected by the loss of the EB program," said Steve Arwood, Deputy Director of the Deparment of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. "These are individuals who are currently on EB and those who could exhaust all of their benefits before the end of this year."

"Michigan has been hit incredibly hard by unemployment," said Rep. Barb Byrum (D - Onondaga). "This money would allow those who are unemployed through no fault of their own to put food on the table."

So on Wednesday, Rep. Byrum proposed a substitute bill on the House floor that would've allowed approximately $500 million in federal funds into the state. That bill was voted down.

A representative with House Speaker Jase Bolger's (R - Marshall) office says the Speaker is still on the fence about the issue. That representative told WILX that although Bolger understands the problems Michigan's long-term jobless are facing, he's concerned that the increased costs businesses would bear from extending benefits could be too high.

Bolger isn't the only lawmaker with uncertainty about approving an extension.

"Michigan businesses have to pay into this so this is a cost for businesses that are struggling to keep people employed," said Sen. Rick Jones (R - Grand Ledge).

The uncertainty comes because although prior unemployment benefit extensions passed in Washington have been funded by federal stimulus money, nobody is quite sure where the funding for the newest extension is going to come from.

Sen. Jones says a compromise could be possible if the extension comes with overall reforms to the unemployment benefits system.

"I want the truly unemployed to have benefits," said Sen. Jones. "I worry about all of the cases I hear where people aren't looking for employment."

Michigan isn't alone in facing this same issue. 5 other states, including Ohio and Minnesota, have passed legislation this year in order to accept the federal funding.

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