benefits

Politics & Government
7:13 am
Mon April 14, 2014

With stalemate in D.C., White House pushes jobless benefits in Michigan

Credit Michael Raphael / Flickr

Anybody who's out of work in Michigan knows they can't get an unemployment check for as long as they used to. 

Ever since the federal government stopped offering emergency benefits extensions at the end of last year, Michiganders can get just 20 weeks of jobless benefits.

They used have up to 99 weeks, back when the recession was at its worst.

For months now, Democrats and a handful of Republicans have been trying to get those extensions up and running again. 

But some Republicans say no.

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Stateside
4:08 pm
Wed January 8, 2014

Battles over unemployment benefits, Mackinac’s oil pipeline gain federal attention

The Mackinac Bridge.
Julie Falk Flickr

An interview with Todd Spangler.

Emergency unemployment benefits and senatorial "jitters" over an Enbridge oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac: Both are issues consuming attention from Michigan's congressional delegation.

More than a week ago, a federal unemployment benefits program expired, leaving 1.3 million jobless Americans without aid. Some 45,000 of them are here in Michigan.

The program is the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. In Michigan, the EUC added 36 more weeks to the state's regular 20 weeks of benefits.

On Capitol Hill today, Democrats are trying to pressure House Republicans to extend the program for three more months.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is trying to ease concerns over an oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

Detroit Free Press Washington reporter Todd Spangler joins us now to tell us more about these issues.

Listen to the full interview above.

Politics & Government
11:57 am
Thu April 11, 2013

Michigan agency defends handling of unemployment fraud

Steve Arwood, Director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs
State of Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The head of Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency is defending his agency's decision to not attend some insurance fraud hearings in light of staffing cuts.

Steve Arwood was called to testify in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Thursday.

Arwood was asked to address a report in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday that said the agency instructed officials to only show up at administrative fraud hearings if the amount is at least $15,000.

Arwood says last October the agency was forced to cut staff from 1,200 to 800 employees, including 20 people whose primary responsibility was to attend hearings.

In 2011, lawmakers passed legislation to reduce the threshold for a felony charge for unemployment insurance fraud from $25,000 to $3,500.

Politics & Government
4:35 pm
Sun April 7, 2013

Revamping vets' services

Michigan's new Veterans Affairs Agency director says the state needs to do a better job connecting its nearly 700,000 veterans to services.

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Economy
4:41 pm
Fri January 13, 2012

Audit shows high eligibility error rates at state Dept. of Human Services

user mensatic morgueFile

A new report from Michigan’s Auditor General shows problems with determining eligibility for some public assistance programs.

In 2008, Auditor General Thomas McTavish recommended D-H-S come up with system to reduce the number of errors it made and improve payment accuracy for three public assistance programs: the Family Independence Program (FIP), the Child Development and Care program (CDC), and the Medical Assistance (MA) program.

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Commentary
9:12 am
Fri December 23, 2011

Michigan's Governor makes a misstep on benefits to the unmarried domestic partners

Politically speaking, this has been the year of Rick Snyder. Since he first burst on the scene two years ago, he has had an astonishing run of success. The experts said a self-proclaimed “nerd” without any political experience couldn’t possibly win the nomination for governor, much less the general election.

 When he did both, they said the new kid would fall on his face in the rough-and-tumble world of Lansing. Instead, he got more significant legislation enacted in a few short months than his predecessor had in eight years.

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State Legislature
12:48 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

State House votes to restrict food assistance use

Inside the state Capitol building, Lansing, MI
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Welfare recipients could not use their state-issued debit cards to draw cash from casino ATMs or buy lottery tickets, alcohol and tobacco under legislation moving through the state Legislature.

The Michigan House passed bills Wednesday that would restrict the use of Michigan Bridge Cards, used like debit cards for state food assistance and cash programs. The major bills passed 108-0 and advance to the Senate.

Monthly food assistance in Michigan is based on income, how many people are in their household and other criteria. Funds are made available on a debit card swiped through electronic reader when buying groceries.

Other bills in the package would require the state to deactivate a Bridge card when a recipient is in jail.

State Legislature
3:59 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

House effort fails to reject partner benefits

 State House Republican leaders failed to muster enough votes to reverse health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees. The new policy will treat unmarried employees with live-in partners the same as married employees, and it will apply to people in same-sex relationships. A two-thirds majority vote isrequired to reverse  the contracts approved by the state Civil Service Commission.

GOP lawmakers said the Civil Service Commission decision undermines “traditional families” and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan.

House Speaker Jase Bolger says he is looking for other avenues to block the new policy from taking effect October first.

"I’m going to continue to explore the legality of their decision. I believe they made an end run around the constitution. I’m not an attorney, but I’m going to consult with attorneys to see if something can be done about their illegal decision,” Bolger said.

Democrats say the Legislature should not rescind agreements collectively bargained with state employee unions.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette has also been asked for an opinion on whether state employee live-in partner benefits violates Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

State Legislature
10:26 am
Wed April 13, 2011

Lawmakers move to shift health care costs

Inside the state Capitol, Lansing, Michigan
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Proposals to require public employees in Michigan to pay at least 20 percent of their health insurance costs have advanced in the state Legislature, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

A Republican-led Senate committee approved the measures Wednesday on party-line votes. Republican Sen. Mark Jansen of Kent County's Gaines Township says the measures could come up for votes on the Senate floor later this month.

The legislation would affect employees with the state, local governments, public school districts, public universities and other public employers.

Republicans say the measures are needed to help public employers control costs. Democrats say health care costs should be bargained in contracts.

Local units of government could exempt themselves from the act by a two-thirds vote of its governing body.

 The legislation is Senate Bill 7 and Senate Joint Resolution C.

Commentary
12:48 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Cutting Unemployment Benefits

Two days ago a friend of mine called me in a semi-panic. Her unemployment benefits were about to run out, and she had eighty-seven dollars to her name. She wasn’t going to be able to make the modest payment on her small house, and didn’t know what to do. Nor did she understand what was going on in the legislature. Someone had told her that the governor was signing a bill to extend unemployment benefits. Somebody else told her he was going to shorten them. Which, she wanted to know, was it?

Well, both, I said. The governor signed a bill Monday that extends eligibility for federal extended unemployment benefits for up to ninety-nine weeks.

That’s only, however, for people like my friend Karen, who already is collecting unemployment.

Next year, however, things will change drastically. Any Michigander who loses his or her job after January 15, 2012 will only be eligible for state unemployment benefits for a maximum of twenty weeks. That’s less than five months.

For years, jobless workers in Michigan have been able to collect benefits for a maximum of twenty-six weeks, or six months. They can collect them for longer periods of time now because the federal government decided to temporarily provide benefits, because of the lingering effects of the recession. Those effects are still hanging on in Michigan, where unemployment is still more than ten percent. Economists expect that to come down a little by next year, but we’re likely to continue to be a long way from full employment. What that means is that for many people, twenty weeks is not going to be enough time to find a job.

So why is our government making it tough for jobless workers? Interestingly, nobody is really coming forward to defend this. Governor Snyder said he signed this bill because it was necessary to extend benefits for those who are jobless now. He said he would have been happy to leave eligibility at twenty-six weeks, and blamed the legislature for shortening the time period. Why did they do this? Well, nobody is rushing forward to claim credit.

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State Law
1:40 pm
Tue March 29, 2011

Nation focuses in on Michigan’s cut to unemployment benefits

Khalilshah Flickr

On Monday, Governor Snyder signed into law a bill that would extend unemployment benefits by 20 weeks to some 35,000 Michiganders. However, the bill also cuts six-weeks of state unemployment benefits for new filers beginning next year. The measure reduces jobless benefits in the state from 26 weeks to 20 weeks as of 2012. That reduction means, beginning next year, Michigan will provide the shortest number of weeks of unemployment out of any state in the nation.

Snyder’s signing of the bill has gained the state quite a bit of national attention.

From The New York Times:

Democrats and advocates for the unemployed expressed outrage that such a hard-hit state will become the most miserly when it comes to how long it pays benefits to those who have lost their jobs. All states currently pay 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, before extended benefits paid by the federal government kick in. Michigan’s new law means that starting next year, when the federal benefits are now set to end, the state will stop paying benefits to the jobless after just 20 weeks. The shape of future extensions is unclear.

The measure, passed by a Republican-led Legislature, took advocates for the unemployed by surprise: the language cutting benefits next year was slipped quietly into a bill that was originally sold as way to preserve unemployment benefits this year.

From NPR’s political blog:

Few states were hit harder by the Great Recession and unemployment than Michigan, a state that faced profound economic challenges, including relatively high unemployment, even before the national downtown.

So it could strike some as ironic that Michigan, of all places, just enacted into law a reduction of the number of weeks it will pay unemployment insurance to 20 weeks from 26 weeks starting next year.

The reduction will make Michigan the state that provides jobless benefits for the shortest number of weeks. And that's in a state whose jobless rate was 11.3 percent in February compared with the 9.5 percent national rate….

Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican who took office this year, and GOP legislators said the reduction was necessary because the state's unemployment insurance fund is $4 billion in the hole as a result of its economic woes. Michigan borrowed from the federal government to keep the program afloat.

Since employers contribute to the state's jobless fund and were facing higher taxes to repay the federal loan, they supported the benefits reduction.

And, in a story picked up by USA Today, Chris Christoff with the Detroit Free Press, takes a hard look at the fact that Michigan owes, "the federal government about $3.96 billion that the state borrowed to pay unemployment benefits during the worst economy since the Great Depression. That's on top of the regular unemployment tax businesses and other employers must pay."

Snyder's signing of the bill also led some to speculate on whether or not other states would follow Michigan's lead in shortening benefits. An article in Examiner.com asks,"Will Ohio follow Michigan lead on reducing unemployment benefits?" And, in an article last week, the Washington Post noted:

This month, the Florida House approved a measure reducing the maximum benefit period from 26 to as little as 12 weeks while curbing increases in unemployment taxes paid by employers. The jobless rate in Florida is 11.9 percent.

“We are sending a message to the business community that Florida is quickly becoming the most business-friendly state in the country,” said state Rep. Doug Holder (R-Sarasota), the sponsor of the Florida bill.

It would go into effect Aug. 1.

In Arkansas, lawmakers are moving toward freezing unemployment benefits levels while trimming the maximum benefit period for state benefits from 26 to 25 weeks.

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Health Insurance
11:49 am
Wed January 26, 2011

Same-sex health insurance issue expected to be discussed today

Update 11:43 a.m.:

The state Civil Service Commission has approved agreements to allow state employees to put their live-in partners on their insurance plans, Rick Pluta reports.

The commission's action ratifies agreements that were worked out between Governor Jennifer Granholm's administration with two state employee unions and state workers who are not part of a union. The commission acted over the objections of Governor Rick Snyder's administration.

8:20 a.m.:

It’s expected that The Michigan Civil Service Commission will take up a measure today that would extend health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of state employees, The Detroit News reports. As the News explains:

An attempt to push through the change in the waning days of the Granholm administration failed when the commission tabled the issue in December. Now, the new administration of Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to tell the commission today the state can't afford the change — expected to cost close to $6 million a year…

The four-member commission is split on the issue, as are unions for state employees who are bracing for anticipated fights on wage and benefit issues viewed as higher priorities. Employee benefits for same-sex partners were negotiated in 2004, shortly before Michigan voters passed a ballot initiative that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Politics
6:38 am
Fri December 17, 2010

U.S. House passes tax deal, bill now goes to President Obama for his signature

The U.S. House passed President Obama's tax deal last night, the bill now goes to the President for his signature

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to extend Bush-era tax breaks and extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed yesterday.  The tax-deal was brokered between President Obama and leaders in the House and Senate.  The President is expected to sign the bill soon.  As The Associated Press reports:

In a remarkable show of bipartisanship, the House gave final approval to the measure just before midnight Thursday, overcoming an attempt by rebellious Democrats who wanted to impose a higher estate tax than the one Obama agreed to. The vote was 277-148.

Republican Congressman Dave Camp of Michigan told USA Today:

Congress made the right decision ... to prevent a job-killing tax hike on Americans and small businesses.

The U.S. Senate had already passed the bill with a 81-19 vote.

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Unemployment benefits
9:06 am
Wed December 8, 2010

Granholm defends President Obama's tax 'compromise'

Governor Jennifer Granholm
Photo courtesy of www.michigan.gov

Governor Granholm says she supports President Obama’s compromise with Congressional Republicans on tax cuts.

Granholm said that the President got a ‘good deal’ by extending benefits for the long-term unemployed in exchange for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts.

Granholm said the deal will keep 180,000 people in Michigan from losing their income during the holidays:

I look at this as governor of the state with the second highest unemployment rate in the nation and I'm grateful to the President for being a pragmatic leader... the collateral damage here in Michigan from not extending the unemployment benefits would be horrific.

Granholm made the comments during a White House conference call yesterday afternoon.

Economy
10:29 am
Tue November 23, 2010

Michigan to stop taking extended unemployment applications

Unemployment benefits will run out for millions of Americans this spring if Congress doesn't extend the unemployment insurance program (an unemployment line in California in 2007).
Michael Raphael Flickr

The Associated Press reports that the state "will stop taking new extended unemployment benefit applications after Saturday because Congress has failed to renew the program."

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