House Dems push plan to bolster unemployment insurance

State Rep. Donna Lasinski and House Democrats announce their unemployment benefits package, Sept. 3, 2019 | Nick Manes

Democrats in the state House of Representatives have proposed legislation that they say would “strengthen and improve” the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA). 

The 10-bill package of legislation — which are House Bills 4894-4903, but which had not yet been entered into the state’s online legislative portal — is partially in response to a still-unresolved scandal that resulted in tens of thousands of Michigan residents falsely accused of insurance fraud between 2013 and 2015. 

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Democratic lawmakers say the legislation is also intended to bolster the state’s standing in terms of unemployment benefits offered and increase the maximum rate people can collect once they’ve been laid off. 

Taken together, the bills aim to strengthen unemployment and injury protections and take steps to combat employer fraud. 

Among other things, the bills would increase the weekly maximum rate from $362 to $542 and restore the maximum benefit to 26 weeks, up from 20 weeks, according to a statement from House Democrats.

Rick Snyder at the Detroit Regional Chamber
Rick Snyder | Detroit Regional Chamber, Flickr

In 2011, GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder signed GOP legislation extending federal benefits during the Great Recession, while cutting the number of weeks of state benefits from 26 to 20.

State Rep. Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.), the author of one of the bills, argues the legislation would bolster the state’s capability to address labor shortages and prevent skilled workers from moving to bordering states offering better benefits. 

“And we often hear so much these days about our critical skilled labor shortage,” Lasinski said during a Tuesday morning news conference. 

“So when every other state around us offers an unemployment package that is more attractive to people who are looking for work,” Lasinski continued. “People who are engaged in work that is defined by a cyclical nature, how do we expect to retain and keep the talent and fill the shortages, so we have the best carpenters, the best electricians, the best operating engineers.”

State Rep. Terry Sabo and House Democrats announce their unemployment benefits package, Sept. 3, 2019 | Nick Manes

Another bill sponsor, state Rep. Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon), argued that with signs of another recession starting to loom, the time to pass the legislation is now. 

“So even if it doesn’t happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month, [an economic recession is] going to happen. It always does,” Sabo said. “We’re going to make sure that Michiganders have the financial protections when a financial emergency strikes.”

It’s unclear how the legislation might fare in the broader Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. A spokesman for the House GOP caucus said leaders had not yet reviewed the pending legislation. 

State Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.), another bill sponsor, said Monday he’s hopeful there’s bipartisan support for the legislative package, noting that past efforts haven’t made it across the finish line. 

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“We saw a lot of bipartisan work on these bills prior to this Legislature,” Camilleri said during the Tuesday news conference.

“However, what we’re trying to do is go a step further,” he continued. “And we can ensure that we are making these victims whole and making sure that they have the money in their pockets that they lost. We saw some progress before, we’re calling on action to continue that progress and make it even better.”

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