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Last week, the GOP-led state legislature in Michigan passed a bill reducing the length of unemployment for workers in the state. The measure, which goes into effect in January 2012, is being hyped as fiscal responsibility in the face of Michigan’s $1.4 billion deficit. Opponents point out that the bill is particularly unfair in a state where the unemployment rate has been one of the highest in the nation.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill, which was originally intended to extend federal unemployment benefits through the end of the year. The added measure will reduce state-funded benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, which should benefit Michigan employers by lowering the unemployment taxes they will pay next year. Michigan is the first state in the country to cut benefits to 20 weeks, but others may follow suit – starting with Florida.
“Gov. Snyder’s decision to sign this reckless measure cutting the lifeline for Michigan’s unemployed will reverberate for years,” said Rep. Sander Levin (D) of Michigan in a statement. “Republicans … gave Michigan the dubious distinction of becoming the only state in the union with 20 weeks of state unemployment insurance,” he said, adding that the bill will “affect hundreds and hundreds of thousands” of future unemployed workers.
Michigan likely will not be the only state for long. Earlier this month, the Florida House passed a bill that will similarly reduce the duration of unemployment benefits to 20 weeks. The bill is currently under consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate, and Republican Governor Rick Scott strongly supports it.
Michigan Democrats are now working on legislation to restore the six weeks of unemployment that were cut. State Rep. Jim Ananich (D-Flint), and state Sen. Tupac Hunter (D-Detroit), have announced that they are working on legislation to restore the full 26 weeks of benefits.
“Getting people back to work right away must be our top priority,” Ananich said. “But while they are trying to find a job or being trained for new positions, we have to make sure they can still put food on their table. Restoring these resources will help families stay in Michigan and help our local businesses that depend on people to buy their goods and services.”