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Whitmer signs unemployment extension into law, granting 6 extra weeks of jobless aid

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Unemployed Michigan residents have up to an additional six weeks of jobless aid again  after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed two bills into law that the GOP-led Legislature passed last week. 

The legislation would extend the duration of jobless benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks, which is the maximum for federal benefits.

The bill also continues work share programs through the Unemployment Insurance Agency and waives requirements that an individual must be actively seeking employment if an employer confirms a layoff is temporary.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs into law a six-week extension for unemployment benefits at her Lansing home on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.

Whitmer on Tuesday urged legislators to pass bills making the change permanent, instead of through December, as the legislation is written. 

"Given the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Michigan, I urge the Legislature to take further action to make this permanent," she said in a statement. "Forty states, including all of our neighbors, automatically provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment relief." 

The state has paid out more than $25 billion in state and federal jobless aid to 2.2 million workers since March 15, Whitmer said. 

A second bill signed Tuesday allows retirees from the Unemployment Insurance Agency to return to help process claims in response to consistent delays in processing jobless claims since the pandemic began. 

Whitmer also critiqued the lack of allowances for the UIA to review only a claimant's most recent employer separation. 

Without an allowance for that limited review, which was granted under Whitmer's executive orders, the agency is forced to review every job a worker has left in the last 18 months, slowing an already delayed jobless aid process. 

Last week, the Legislature worked all day Tuesday and into the early hours of Wednesday to reach a deal with Whitmer on a variety of bills, including unemployment. 

An initial version of the bill tie-barred it to GOP-backed legislation that would guarantee COVID-19 liability protections to businesses if they observed health protocols — legislation about which Whitmer had voiced opposition in the past.

The bills eventually were passed, but the tie bar with unemployment was removed.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com