LANSING, Mich. — If you’re new to filing for unemployment benefits in Michigan, you will only be allowed to claim for 20 weeks this year instead of 26.
And it’s all due to a recent veto by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
But one lawmaker tells FOX 17 that decision is hurting the unemployed and businesses Whitmer shut down during the pandemic.
“Well it certainly is my hope that we stand up for the hardworking Michiganders and see that extension of 26 weeks,” said State Representative Mark Huizenga.
He thinks Governor Whitmer needs to be accountable for her recent veto that prevented an extra six weeks of unemployment benefits.
“It goes two ways,” he said. “We can’t just say that we’re gonna extend the benefits without having the funding for it.”
The legislature had a plan in place to extend the benefits but with a provision that $220 million dollars would be added to the state’s trust fund.
That’s the account that some benefits are paid from and is entirely funded by businesses. Some of which have been shut down due to the governor’s orders.
“So we thought it was really important to make sure that fund was bolstered. Again, we’ve seen a reduction in value by 84% so to add money to that, we want to make sure that we were not playing political games,” said Huizenga.
The trust fund had $4.6 billion in it at the end of 2019. According to the US Treasury Department we’re now at less than $800 million as of Monday.
If it drops low enough, the state may be forced to borrow.
“Employers pay that money into the fund. If we can ensure that we use those dollars to keep getting their unemployment benefits that are fully due to them, that’s what’s really important for me right now,” said Huizenga.
Governor Whitmer’s office provided FOX 17 with the following statement:
“The bipartisan legislation Governor Whitmer signed extends benefits for Michiganders who have lost work because of COVID-19. Unfortunately the legislature tied an extension from 20 to 26 weeks of benefit eligibility to a $220 million giveaway of taxpayer money to the employer-owned Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund - a pool of funds designed to help businesses fund benefits for laid off workers. It was a corporate tax cut that the administration never agreed to. The unemployment benefit weeks extension for workers who file January 1 and beyond will go into effect as soon as the legislature breaks the tie between the extension of benefits and the tax cut it has insisted upon. We’re hopeful the legislature will quickly take action to permanently extend unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks for newly unemployed workers who file Jan 1 forward, putting Michigan in line with 40 other states.”
While Huizenga is in favor of the extra weeks for COVID, he questions the need for a permanent extension.
“Even recent outlooks for economic development in the state of Michigan shows that autos are gonna be strong in 2021. So, I think there’s gonna be plenty of jobs available, it’s just important that we stand up and support Michiganders right now during this time of hardship that we give them the resources that they need to get them through that and that’s why I support the 26 week extension right now.”
Huizenga tells me if lawmakers were to extend to 26 weeks during the pandemic again, the bills would need to be written up then voted on. That would likely not happen for several weeks.