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Whitmer signs bipartisan bills to extend unemployment benefits until end of the year

October 21, 2020
<p>Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs bipartisan bills extending unemployment benefits to 26 weeks on Oct. 20, 2020. Courtesy photo provided by Michigan Executive Office of the Governor.</p>

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs bipartisan bills extending unemployment benefits to 26 weeks on Oct. 20, 2020. Courtesy photo provided by Michigan Executive Office of the Governor.

Unemployment benefits are extended until the end of the year for Michigan residents who have lost work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the bipartisan Senate Bills 886 and 991 on Tuesday, which extend unemployment benefits for eligible residents from 20 to 26 weeks. 

Despite the signing of the bills, the governor called on the legislature to make benefits permanent for those in need. 

“No Michigander should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a global pandemic,” Whitmer said in a press release. “These bipartisan bills are an important step in providing immediate relief for working families, but given the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Michigan, I urge the legislature to take further action to make this permanent."

According to Whitmer, 40 states — including all neighboring states of Michigan — automatically provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment relief.

"Michiganders deserve better than a short-term extension that expires at the end of the year," Whitmer said in the release. "It’s time to work together on a long-term solution for working families.” 

Whitmer additionally called on the legislature to pass legislation that allows the Unemployment Insurance Agency, or UIA, to review only a claimant’s most recent employer separation in an attempt to speed up claims processing. Currently, the UIA must evaluate every job a worker has held in the past 18 months.

While many of the governor’s executive orders issued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic were overturned by a state Supreme Court ruling that asserted Whitmer did not have the authority to declare a state of emergency without legislative approval under 1976 Emergency Management Act, or EMA, nor the authority to exercise emergency powers under the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, or EPGA, the recently signed bills codify the majority of her orders on unemployment.

Before the orders were overturned, the Whitmer administration had paid over $25 billion in benefits to 2.2 million workers since March 15, according to a press release. 

"Michigan's working people are grateful to the legislature for taking action to patch some of the holes in our state's safety net that were ripped open weeks ago by a narrow Supreme Court decision," President of the Michigan AFL-CIO Ron Bieber said in a press release. "But this virus isn't going to disappear just because we are tired of it, and it certainly won't be doing so on or around December 31st. Leadership should call them back from their extended vacation - after making the fixes to unemployment insurance permanent, they still have plenty of work to do to keep people safe and healthy, and address the economic devastation still rippling from our national failure to effectively deal with the virus."    

Prior to her signing of the Republican-sponsored Senate bills, the governor faced criticism from congressional Republican leaders, who alleged she was unwilling to work with the legislature to come up with a bipartisan coronavirus relief plan. 

Following the Supreme Court ruling, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey urged the governor to work with Republicans to enact legislation to help support those affected by the pandemic in an open letter published by The Detroit News.

“The Senate Republicans are ready to address policies necessary for our citizens to navigate life in the presence of COVID-19,” Shirkey wrote in the letter. “We stand united in our condemnation of terrorists who would seek to harm those serving in state government. We are ready to work together to move Michigan forward. The question is: Governor, are you willing to work with us?”

Given the signing of Senate Bills 886 and 991 into law, it is apparent that the governor is, in fact, ready and willing to do so.

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