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Advocates push for $600 in federal unemployment benefits to be extended

Posted at 7:12 PM, Jul 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-31 00:02:09-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A lot of people have asked about the federal government’s weekly $600 unemployment boost.

It ended this past weekend, but several groups are trying to get it extended.

The biggest reason that people here in Michigan rely on it is that state unemployment payments aren’t that high. If you’re on a regular claim, the maximum is $362 a week plus $160 a week for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA.

While the money is helpful, some people have not been paid at all.

“Basically, right now we’re putting things on the credit card to pay for things,” said Allison Tyrrell of Houghton Lake. "It would be nice if I could get that back pay."

She worked at Michigan State Police since 2015. When her husband retired in January, Tyrrell left MSP to work nearly full-time at her second job with the Northern Michigan Law Enforcement Training Group.

“Actually, March 13 was our last day to work at the office," she noted. "It's on a military base, and civilians aren't allowed on the military base when the shutdown came, so we had to work from home."

Her hours went from nearly 40 a week down to just 20 a month. Tyrrell’s position was eliminated in June, and, after being denied benefits, she protested the unemployment agency’s determination.

“So, I got the paperwork and filled out the protest,” she said. "I sent that in, and I still have not heard anything. The problem is it’s been five months since I first applied."

Being on a fixed income with her husband’s retirement, the couple has had to make some tough decisions to pay their bills, including selling the family pool. “We liquidated my 401k to pay taxes, and we have property taxes due here in September, and we don’t have the money. We weren’t financially prepared for me to stop working,” she said.

Which is part of the reason that some are asking the federal government to extend the $600 a week in extra unemployment compensation.

That expired in Michigan on July 25th.

“The lawmakers in Congress have made their counteroffer of renewing that program at $200 a week, which we know is not enough,” said Ryan Bates, executive director of the advocacy group Michigan United.

On Thursday, a group of community leaders, policy experts, and a state lawmaker met on Zoom to push the government to extend the extra benefits, especially for families in poverty before the pandemic.

“We still have people who are not able to get back to work, and to take that away takes away their lifeline that many families need who have children, elderly--people who are dealing with choosing between food and medicine,” said Dr. Steve Bland, senior pastor at Liberty Temple Baptist in Detroit. “And let’s understand, they were already on a lifeline before the pandemic.”

“This is not saying, you know, you’re just giving these lazy people money. No. They were people who were working or else they would not qualify for unemployment,” said Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI 14th District). “When they [Republicans] said they wanted to negotiate, no one knew that they would come back with $200. But we have record numbers of people still applying for unemployment, and people are concerned about their rent,” said Lawrence.

That's an issue that Allison Tyrrell has definitely worried about as well.

“Now we’re just starting to sell things just to get our bills met, so it’s starting to get to the crunch time. I don’t want it to get to that point,” she said.

After talking with FOX 17, Allison should now be able to apply for PUA and get her back pay.

As for the HEALS Act, now under consideration in the Senate, it would add another round of stimulus payments and drop the pandemic compensation to $200 a week through September. A different bill, called the HEROES Act, already passed the House, but the two bills are far apart in the specifics.