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Monday, December 19, 2011

More changes to Michigan Unemployment Insurance Program for job seekers

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ROJS News Op/Ed

On March 29th, Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder (R) started a attack on job seekers, with the willing assistance of the Republican controlled State House and Senate, making our Great Lakes state the first in the nation that reduce eligible weeks of unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks.

When Gov. Snyder signed HB 4408 in law, Michigan's jobless rate was 10.2% for April 2011. Today, the states' unemployment rate is 9.8%, which Snyder wants to take credit for but, not so fast.

Michigan decreased jobless rate is a result of 'No Worker Left Behind' and, not Gov. Rick Snyder

The reduction in Michigan's monthly jobless rate is due to a individual who left office on December 31st, 2010. That would be former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D). Why, one may ask? Well until the New Year, Michigan still operates under its' 2010-11 budget signed into law by the former Governor; as proven by Michigan's Executive Fiscal Budget for 2012-2013 PDF that's widely available online here.

So, for Gov. Snyder to take 'credit' for the states' jobless rate dropping from January's 2011 high of 10.7% to now 9.8%, is a clear case of taking credit, where credit isn't due.

Instead of supporting or advocating for programs that would return Michiganders back into decent paying professions, with appropriate health based and life benefits; Gov. Snyder and state GOP leaders want to place workers laid off though no fault of their own, into new jobs made up of low paying 'professions' and/or fast food work. Allow us to explain below.

A program that former Gov. Jennifer Granholm fought hard to enact in Michigan, after massive restructuring efforts by Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, was named 'No Worker Left Behind'. The program was build around a concept of preparing unemployed job seekers to retrain for high-demanding career fields, while receiving unemployment benefits.

Former Gov. Granholm was able to model No Worker Left Behind on a limited basis starting in February 2007. She then, expanded the program, with federal dollars received with President Barack Obama's (D) American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009.

The results of the 'No Worker Left Behind' initiative were outstanding, according a January 2011 report by the National Skills Coalition.
As of October 2010, Michigan's Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG) reported that 148,808 people had enrolled in training since the lauch of No Work Left Behind in August 2007. The emphasis on training versus immediate job placement, and longer-term training in particular, is evident:
  • 59% of Michigan WIA participants were enrolled in training, compared to 13% of WIA participlants nationwide; and 
  • 74% of Michigan WAU participants were enrolled in training of a year or longer compared with just 24 % of participants nationally.
As of December 2993 DELEG reported that 75% of those who had completed train had either retained or obtained a job. Of those who found a job 82% reported it was related to their training. Current data incidate that particpants are choosing fields of study that prepare them for in-demand and emeging occupations: 37% are engaged in health care training, 15% in managerial and other professional training, 10% in transportation 8% in manufacturing, 7% in information technology, and 23 % in other fields of study. 
These outcomes apply to a diverse pool of workers. As of June 2010, 44% of participants were unemployed and dislocated workers.
Training dislocated and/or unemployed workers into high demands fields, does indeed work. So, after reviewing the data available, what happened to this successful program? 

Funding for 'No Worker Left Behind' was frozen in June 2010, due to Republican leaders in U.S. House of Representatives refusing to re-authorize dollars for Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programming.

Candidate Rick Snyder Didn't Campaign on Cutting State Employment Benefits but, Since Being Governor, Has Been More  Happy to Do So

Flash forward to January 1, 2011, when Rick Snyder -venture capitalist- was sworn into Michigan highest executive office as Gov. Snyder.

During 2010s's gubernatorial campaign period, Snyder's commercials repeatedly played on local media outlets, stated his "Number One Job was to Create Jobs". What was left out was whether those jobs were going to be paying at or near minimum wages.

Being the first Governor in the nation to reduce unemployment benefits, on Snyder's desk today at 3:05 PM are a series of measures which after 10 weeks of state funded jobless benefits, mandates Michiganders take a job in the fast food industry at $7.40 an hour. 

Believe it or not, he's actually having a signing ceremony for the bills making Michigan unemployed workers take a low wage job or, lose unemployment benefits. Guess Snyder believes this action will 're-invent Michigan'.
"Gov. Rick Snyder is getting ready to sign bills aimed at saving Michigan employers money on unemployment insurance and worker's compensation benefits," the Detroit News reports. "He plans to sign the bills at a 3:05 p.m. news conference today."
Michigan Senate Bill 806, along with additional versions 483, 484 and House Bill 5185 represents a blatant draconian attack on the state's unemployed workers. We're reminded of a statement former candidate for Michigan's Lt. Governor in 2010 and, current Mayor of Southfield, Michigan, Brenda Lawrence, cited in a recent press conference on Public Act #4.

"Elections have consequences," Mayor Lawrence rightfully stated.

Arthur Delaney, a journalist who has been covering unemployment issues for over two years at Huffington Post, clearly explains what's the impact to Michigan's Job Seekers with the above noted bills.
"Bills 806, 483 and 484 add new limitations to eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits and make changes that aim to help stabilize the unemployment insurance fund. They come after unemployment benefits for Michiganders were previously cut in March of this year. 
Bill 806 changes the definition of leaving work voluntarily, one cause of benefits ineligibility, to include missing three consecutive work days without proper notice. The definition of "unsuitable" work -- that which is below or outside a worker's skill level -- also changes in Bill 806. Now, any job that pays at least 120 percent of the weekly unemployment benefit amount will no longer be considered unsuitable once a worker has received 10 weeks of benefits. That means workers will no longer be eligible for benefits if they can find a paying job -- any paying job. 
Republicans say they designed the legislation to reduce fraud, reform the unemployment system and encourage the unemployed to find work before exhausting benefits."
Congress Actions on Federal Unemployment Benefits Extensions Might Leave Unemployed Job Seekers Holding a Empty Bag in 2012 

There's another change to the Federal Unemployment Extension system known as Extended Benefits (EB) that directly impacts Michigan's job seekers. 

In the latest temporary Social Security Payroll Tax Extension bill (H.R. 3630) pending before President Obama's desk after passing U.S. House of Representatives and being negotiated in the Senate, the measure seeks to cut in half E.B. benefits and, drug test nationwide job seekers receiving any unemployment benefits.
"House of Representatives (seek) to  cut unemployment insurance and facilitate drug testing of Americans who lose their jobs through no fault of their own is cold-hearted and counterproductive. This tightening of the screws on those who are already suffering so greatly will hurt millions of unemployed workers and their families and will further damage the economy", Christine Owens Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project stated in a December 13th press release.
H.R. 3630 passed the House on a largely party-line vote, 234 to 193, with 14 Republicans voting against it and 10 Democrats voting in support," she cited.
Who were those 10 Democrats? Rambling thought....

But, getting back to the point, what House Speaker John Boehner (R), nearly all Republican members of the House and 10 questionable -at best- House Democrats seek to do is cut income lifelines to America's job seekers, while bowing down to funds-in-hand paid by lobbying organizations like the National Restaurant Organization, Small Business Association and National Federation of Independent Businesses. All of whom, just happened to be all in support of Michigan S.B.'s 806, 453, 484 and H.B. 5165.

President Obama has vowed, at this point to veto H.B. 3630. Let's hope he sticks to his words on this bill.
"The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3630.  With only days left before taxes go up for 160 million hardworking Americans, H.R. 3630 plays politics at the expense of middle-class families.  H.R. 3630 breaks the bipartisan agreement on spending cuts that was reached just a few months ago and would inevitably lead to pressure to cut investments in areas like education and clean energy." 
Furthermore, H.R. 3630 seeks to put the burden of paying for the bill on working families, while giving a free pass to the wealthiest and to big corporations by protecting their loopholes and subsidies," the Obama Administration stated on December 14th.
The 2012 New Year or Christmas Wouldn't Be Blight for Michigan's Unemployed 

For Michigan's job seekers, the situation is even worse. Due to H.B. 4408, signed into law by Gov. Snyder, Michigan's jobless residents lost 6 weeks in the bridge over to the E.B.'s Tier 1's- 20 weeks and then, Tier 2's-6 weeks benefits.

The Federal E.B. program doesn't, unless its' changed in legislative language passed on the Federal Level, kick in until the 27th week of unemployment. Thus, this leaves jobless Michiganders would have a 6 week 'donuthole' before receiving any of the two tiers with E.B., or the federally funded Extended Benefit program.

Sadly, its gets worse. Aside from drug testing laid-off American workers in H.R. 3630, for higher unemployment states like Michigan, job seekers would immediately experience a cut of 47 benefit weeks.

How? By the elimination of Tier's 3 & 4 and separately, with the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program that ends on January 3, 2012, regardless of what Congress does.

If Congress by January 31, 2011, fails to extend any form of Federally Funded Unemployment Benefits in the original measure of H.R. 4853, Michiganders on or near 2011 level benefit of 26 weeks of state-funded UIA claims, would immediately be no longer eligible for payments. Additionally, all Federal E.B. and E.U.B. programs are eliminated.

In the end, this all leads to shaky ground underneath the feet of Michigan's Unemployed job seekers. On top of that for Michiganders and Nationwide 99ers (those who have exhausted all forms of state and federal unemployment benefits) HR 589 sponsored by Representatives Barbara Lee (D) and Bobby Scott (D) on February 9, 201, stuck within the GOP House Ways and Means Committee, is all but dead for this year. 

These actions are leading to a extremely sad Christmas and Unhappy 2012 New Year for 500,000 + Michigan's job seekers.

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