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Monday, March 21, 2011

Michigan long-term unemployed will lose payments, unless state lawmakers act by 4/1

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Michigan lawmakers have until Friday, April 1 to extend the Federally-Based Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) or up to 35,000 state based unemployed job seekers will lose their federal extended unemployment benefits. In addition, another 150,000 job seeking Michiganders, currently receiving Tiers I-II and III of the program; will lose eligibility for the Tier IV extension.

A technical fix is needed with the state legislative body which would allow Michigan to remain eligible for the last Tier of the Federal Extended Benefits Program. Tier IV, provides 20 weeks of unemployment benefits to the longest-term unemployed. Without action, unemployed workers in the state will only be eligible for 79 weeks of benefits, instead of up to 99 weeks in total.
 On Friday, March 18th, Michigan House Rep. Sander Levin sent a letter to state lawmakers encouraging legislators to take up the measure prior to April 1st, for Michigan residents currently receiving the Tier IV benefit, do not fall off the unemployment rolls.

"As we all know, this has been an unprecedented economic recession in our state.   Even as we begin to turn the corner, we know that families are struggling to stay afloat, especially those thrown out of work through no fault of their own," Levin wrote. "The unemployment insurance program is a vital lifeline to workers and their families."  
The Republican-majority Michigan House of Representatives will take up the measure this week, according to Ari Adler, spokesman for Representative Jase Bolger (R- Marshall), the current Speaker of the State House.
"Rep. Bolger is in discussions with the state senate and the governor's office about this issue," Adler said. 
Still, worrisome for Michigan’s long-term unemployed job seekers, Spokesperson Adler state that Bolger has not defined his position on the measure. 
"Although he is sympathetic to workers, he's also concerned about those in the business community who could face higher taxes to pay for these benefits," he said.
Adler went on to explain that the last time federal unemployment benefits were extended, the Federal Government provided stimulus money, via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to cover the cost. "Not so this time," Adler said. Still, Alder was wrong in his assumption that Michigan businesses would shoulder cost of extending the program for state based unemployed job seekers.

According to Rep. Levin's letter, the benefits are fully funded by the government. 
"As you know, the permanent law Extended Benefits program which is typically paid through a 50-50 federal-state split when triggered by a state’s unemployment situation has been 100 percent federally financed since 2009," he wrote. "Since that time, Michigan has changed its unemployment law to qualify for these federal funds and no state business taxes are collected to pay for these benefits."
Furthermore, to Spokesperson Alder’s comment, Representative Barb Byrum (D-District 67-Elk Rapids) confirms states a technical fix will have no impact on unemployment taxes for businesses in the state.

Rep. Byrum represents one-third of Lansing as well as rural Ingham County, is small business owner herself. 

"I own a hardware store, so I understand the concerns of small business owners," she said. "But enacting this technical fix will have absolutely no impact on our taxes."
She introduced legislation in February to enact the technical fix needed to ensure Michigan residents remain eligible for extended federal unemployment benefits, but to date, the bill remains stuck in the House Committee on Commerce.
"Whether we vote on my bill or another one, we need to act quickly," Byrum said. "It's unacceptable to hang unemployed people out to dry."
Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) has begun to notify workers who will lose their extended federal unemployment benefits payments unless the technical fix necessary is adopted by Michigan lawmakers.
"Approximately 150,000 unemployed workers in Michigan could potentially be affected by the loss of the EB program. These are individuals who are currently on EB and those who could exhaust all of their benefits on the federal EUC extension before the end of this year and then will be unable to apply for EB,” said Steve Arwood, deputy director of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth said in a statement.  
"The state unemployment agency is in the process of notifying those in the Extended Benefit program that benefits will cease for everyone receiving EB effective the week ending April 2," a statement noted.
The agency has also established a toll-free telephone number (1-866-MI-HELPS) for people to call for pre-recorded information about the extension program and their remaining benefits. 

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