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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Technical fix to Michigan jobless benefits passed by Senate; state payments reduced from 26 to 20 weeks

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The Michigan Senate approved legislation today that will allow 35,000 displaced workers in the state to continue to receive federal extended benefits on a vote of 24-13. 

For Michigan's jobless workers GOP Senate leaders managed to cut the number of weeks paid under the program in the bill from 26 to 20.

Lawmakers needed to enact a technical change to the state's unemployment insurance program before April 1stin order for Michigan's unemployed job seekers to remain eligible for the federal Extended Benefit (EB) program.  

Without it, many of the state jobless individuals would be cut off from federal benefits at 79 weeks instead of 99 weeks. The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) has noted that up to 150,000 people in the state will be eligible for those benefits this year. 

It is unsure at this time how Michigan's unemployed would be impacted by the reduction initial state based unemployment insurance weeks with Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) HR-589 bill, to extend 14 weeks to the Tier I federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) benefit for the long-term jobless. 

Both Lee and Scott on March 22nd announced a meeting with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) to discuss finding funding deductions in the Federal budget, to find funding for the bill.

Michigan's bill which was amended on the Senate floor from the state House version, adds a provision reducing the number of weeks of state-paid unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 beginning next year. 

This action leaves a payless gap of six weeks between initial states paid jobless benefits and the first level of current Federal emergency unemployment compensation (EUC). The amendment is modeled on legislation recently passed in Florida to reduce the number of weeks unemployed workers can receive benefits. 

States have provided 26 weeks of unemployment benefits to workers since the 1940's. This move by the GOP controlled state Senate, would make Michigan only the second state to reduce the length of state based jobness benefits.

Sen. Tupac Hunter (D – Detroit) issued a statement after the vote was passed:
"We were told we’d be voting on legislation to do what 30 other states have already done and bring Michigan into line with what the federal government allows to maximize the benefits available to our unemployed workers. Instead we were given legislation that would wind up cutting people off of their benefits sooner than if we did nothing.  That’s the ultimate slap in the face to our unemployed workers struggling to make ends meet for their families," he noted.
By authorizing a voice vote, Republican Senate leadership sidestepped, the normal procedure for a straight “on-the-record” recorded vote. For Michigan’s unemployed job seekers, actions such as this are allowed under the current rules of Michigan Legislator.

Democrats attempted to amend the legislation to address unemployment fraud committed by businesses, increase child assistance, and provide for the full temporary 20 week extension without the permanent reduction in benefits.  All of the amendments were all rejected by the Republican majority in the Senate.
The legislation change must be approved by state House representatives by tomorrow to take effect in time as; Representatives are scheduled to take a two-week recess after Thursday.

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