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Governor Whitmer signs $106 million bipartisan relief bill

Unemployment benefits extended to 26 weeks, but Governor vetoes funding for it that would help small businesses

On Tuesday, Dec. 29, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the bipartisan relief bill that the Michigan legislature passed after she urged them to provide support for Michigan families, frontline workers, and small businesses. The relief bill includes $55 million to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Grants of up to $20,000 will be made available to small businesses across the state that need support this winter. The relief bill also includes $3.5 million for grants of up to $40,000 each for live music and entertainment venues and includes $45 million in direct payments to workers who have been laid off or furloughed as a result of the virus.

“I proposed this stimulus plan to the legislature in November because I know how much our families, frontline workers, and small businesses need relief. This bipartisan bill will provide families and businesses the support they need to stay afloat as we continue working to distribute the safe and effective vaccine and eliminateCOVID-19 once and for all,” said Governor Whitmer. “There is still more work to do to eliminate this virus and grow our economy. All Michiganders have a personal responsibility to do their part and mask up, practice safe social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings where the virus can easily spread from person to person. We will beat this virus together.”

The governor also signed bipartisan Senate Bill 604 extending unemployment benefits for Michiganders who have lost work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic from 20 to 26 weeks until the end of March 2021. Senate Bill 604 was sponsored by Senator Curtis Hertel.

“No Michigander should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a global pandemic,” said Governor Whitmer. “These bipartisan bills are an important step in providing immediate relief for working families, but there is more work to do. I urge the legislature to take further action to make this permanent. Forty states, including all of our neighbors, automatically provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment relief. Michiganders deserve better than a short-term extension that expires in March. It’s time to work together on a bipartisan long-term solution for working families.”

When she signed the bipartisan relief bill, Governor Whitmer line item vetoed any items not subject to negotiated agreement. That includes $220 million to the employer-owned Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund – a pool of funds designed to help businesses fund benefits for laid off workers. “General fund dollars must be used to fund essential services like vaccines and PPE, not to give tax breaks to big businesses,” she said.

State Rep. Mark Huizenga, of Walker, criticized Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to veto that $220 million, saying it would have extended unemployment benefits within the COVID-19 relief bill that passed the Michigan House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. He said the move will hurt families and job providers at a time of critical need.

“The Governor’s veto directly undermines a widely supported bipartisan plan that would have helped struggling people pay bills and support their families after they have been out of work through no fault of their own,” Huizenga said. “The governor has not listened to small business owners who have been asking her and her administration what they can do to reopen safely and sensibly, and she is now refusing them the resources they need to get by.”

The $220 million that was vetoed within Senate Bill 748 worked in conjunction with unemployment benefit extensions from to 20 to 26 weeks within Senate Bill 604 – essentially serving as a funding mechanism for the extensions. The Legislature’s proposal worked to hold businesses harmless as many small business owners across Michigan have not been able to generate income. At the same time, businesses have been forced to pay into a state Unemployment Trust Fund that has been steadily depleted since COVID-19 cases began surging in the spring and aggressive executive orders were issued in response.

Instead, the governor urged the legislature to return to work in January and pass a permanent extension of unemployment benefits and an increase in weekly benefits that provide unemployed Michiganders the support they need to put food on the table for themselves and their families.

Newly named Michigan UIA Director Liza Estlund Olson revealed earlier in the month to the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic that a trust fund that once contained over $4 billion before COVID-19 had dropped to below $1 billion due to a surge in unemployment claims. The funding within the Legislature’s proposal worked to keep the stressed trust fund viable as benefit demand continues – without continuing to place unfair burdens on local job providers.

“It’s doubly punitive to our local businesses when they are told they are not allowed to generate income due to concerns with COVID-19 and then they are told they have to carry the water for an unemployment fund that is being drained due to the shutdown,” Huizenga said. “Main Street is the backbone of our communities in Michigan, and Gov. Whitmer is pushing these hardworking job providers to their financial breaking points. It will have a terrible long-term impact on our state’s economy.”

On Sunday, the President signed a COVID relief bill that provides some support for Michigan’s unemployed workers. This bill extends benefits to self-employed and gig workers and provides all unemployment recipients with an additional $300 per week. This extension will bring relief to nearly 700,000 Michigan workers who are currently receiving benefits under the federal UI programs. The continuation of these benefits coupled with the additional $300 per week for all claimants will provide our workers with the emergency financial assistance to buy essential items like groceries and prescription drugs.

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Ray Winnie


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