Editorial: Whitmer's sweet deal for state workers bad for taxpayers

The Detroit News

As a result of Michigan's stringent coronavirus stay-home orders, most of us have either personally felt the sting of unemployment or know someone who has. Yet for thousands of state workers, occasional furlough days are turning into a pretty sweet deal. 

The shutdown shouldn't be a windfall for state workers who have kept much of their pay, while also seeing much of their workload drop with everyone stuck at home the last two months.

Last month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that more than 31,000 state employees would take two furlough days per pay period through July 25, “saving” the state about $80 million. When you delve into the details, however, it’s not a good deal for those taxpayers who aren’t on the state payroll. 

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga

Many of these state workers will be making more money while taking their three-day weekends since they can tap the additional $600 a week in federal unemployment assistance, which was part of the CARES Act.

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This caught the attention of U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, who sent a letter Monday to Whitmer asking for some answers about this “sweetheart deal” for state employees. 

Congress didn’t prorate the weekly amount — which seems like a major oversight and a casualty of the quickly passed $2 trillion aid bill — so workers qualify regardless of the number of hours cut. 

“Don’t you find it troubling that state employees are providing fewer services for taxpayers yet making more than they would be if they were working five days a week?” Huizenga wrote.

According to his spokesman, the governor’s office has acknowledged receipt of the letter, but has not yet responded to the congressman's questions. 

Huizenga also raised concerns about how state workers are getting special treatment by being automatically enrolled into the unemployment system, removing a significant barrier that most other unemployed individuals face. He says he's heard from more than 1,000 frustrated constituents who have yet to receive assistance from the state. 

Given the strict stay-home order in place for more than two months, Michigan has had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. More than 1 million residents filed for unemployment in April alone. And the state faces a roughly 23% jobless rate. 

Many have run into problems with the state's unemployment website, delaying much-needed payments during the pandemic. It’s also nearly impossible to reach anyone at the unemployment agency by phone.

“While you have certainly found time to appear on national television programs, Michiganders still can’t properly access the unemployment system — the very system you utilized to prioritize state bureaucrats over families across West Michigan,” Huizenga wrote. “This is unacceptable.”

We agree. And we would like Whitmer to put the interests of all Michiganians over those of government workers.