Michigan legislature debating extending jobless benefits

Mar 17, 2011

The unemployment benefits of 35 thousand jobless Michiganders are about to expire.  There is some debate whether the state should act to extend their benefits by another 20 weeks.    The debate is between those who say the benefits are critical to jobless workers and business groups that say they don’t want to be forced to pay for those benefits.  The clock is ticking.  

The state legislature must act by April 1st, or the benefits will expire.  In addition to the 35 thousand who would lose their benefits, another 150 thousand Michiganders could lose their eligibility in the future. Last year, the Congress approved the extension.   But in order for the extension to go through, the state of Michigan must amend a state law.  

State Representative Barb Byrum is pressing for the State House to take up her bill.   

“If we don’t do this we are going to hang tens of thousands of families out to dry.”

But the unemployment benefits extension has its critics.   The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is opposing Byrum’s bill.   Wendy Block is a chamber spokeswoman.   She says Michigan businesses will eventually be forced to pay $500 to $900 million to cover the costs of the extension.     Block suggests the chamber’s opposition to the extension might be modified if the federal government agrees to some changes in the system that businesses pay into for jobless benefits.   

“We still remain hopeful that something can be worked out that doesn’t just leave employers holding the bag.”

Michigan Congressman Sander Levin pushed the original benefits extension through Congress last year.   He insists that Michigan businesses will not have to pay for the extended benefits.   Levin says the extended benefits in high unemployment states are 100 percent federally funded, unlike the normal 50/50 state & federal split.

“This isn’t a gravy train.  What this is is a basic support for people…out of work through no fault of their own….looking for work and simply can not find a job.”  

The state house may take up the extended benefits legislation next week.