Detroit Regional Chamber > Advocacy > Michigan House Votes to Expand Unemployment Benefits to 26 weeks. GOP Fumes

Michigan House Votes to Expand Unemployment Benefits to 26 weeks. GOP Fumes

June 28, 2024

Bridge Michigan
June 26, 2024
Lauren Gibbons

Eligibility for unemployment benefits in Michigan would be expanded from 20 to 26 weeks under legislation that cleared the state House Wednesday over objections from Republicans and business groups.

The Democratic-majority House voted 56-54 to approve the legislation, which would permanently reverse a 2011 law signed by then-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder that cut unemployment insurance eligibility to 20 weeks.

The legislation, which now heads to the Senate for additional consideration, would align Michigan with the majority of states that offer at least 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Only 13, including Michigan, currently offer fewer weeks.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer approved a temporary expansion of benefits to workers subject to mass layoffs, but the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency subsequently came under fire after failing to stop a deluge of fraudulent claims.

Supporters argue that restoring up to 26 weeks of benefits for jobless Michiganders wouldn’t impact most people who file claims but is “necessary” for those in need.

“We’re just taking it back and just bringing back something that needed to be there in the first place,” said sponsoring Rep. Karen Whitsett, a Detroit Democrat.

Whitsett’s House-passed legislation does not raise the current maximum weekly unemployment payment of $362, but she said she’s also interested in increasing that amount in the future: “My dream number is $600 (a week).”

Should the legislation pass the Senate and get signed into law by Whitmer, it wouldn’t take effect until January 2025. It’s unclear how much the legislation would cost, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis.

Legislative Republicans and business groups panned the bill as an overreach that would negatively impact employers who pay into the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

Rep. Ken Borton, R-Gaylord, argued it shouldn’t take Michigan residents six months to find a job.

“There are jobs out there, so I’m not sure why this change is in any way needed,” Borton said in a statement. “You could drive down the main street of any Michigan town and see at least a handful of help-wanted signs.”

Amanda Fisher, Michigan state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, called the legislation a “slap in the face” to small business owners navigating worker shortages and a difficult economic climate.

“Instead of passing legislation that could raise taxes on small businesses, the legislative majorities should focus on UIA oversight,” Fisher said.

Other leading business groups wrote lawmakers this week urging them to reject the bill, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Republicans have called for additional oversight of Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency following missteps during the pandemic. A third-party audit estimated that from March 2020 through September 2021 cumulative UIA errors cost the state an estimated $8.5 billion.

UIA Director Julia Dale, who took over the agency in 2021, said this spring that the agency has made significant improvements. The UIA has moved away from “quick fixes” and is instead “driving toward lasting change” through technology and personnel improvements, Dale told lawmakers in April.