Column: It’s never been more important to fix Michigan’s broken unemployment system

Susan J. Demas

We are in unprecedented times. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the lives of Michigan’s hardworking families and small business owners like nothing we’ve seen in our lifetimes. 

Millions of men and women who have lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, are relying on unemployment to hang on and weather this storm while our economy slowly regains its footing. Now more than ever, we should be streamlining and fast tracking the financial support families need, not putting up barriers and obstacles. 

Bouncing back from this coronavirus recession with a robust recovery will require us to keep our families and businesses out of crippling debt and bankruptcy. We can do this by making sure families have money to pay their rent, fill their prescriptions and keep the lights on. 

Legislators in the Michigan House and Senate recently announced a plan that will fix the broken system and make it easier for men and women to get the financial relief they desperately need. Our plan includes expanding the benefits the unemployed receive, extending the timeframe they can receive them and removing the obstacles families in need are facing.

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Our plan removes barriers — technical and otherwise — that make it excruciatingly difficult for people who need help to get it in a timely fashion.

In addition, Michigan’s economy does not look the same as it did 10 years ago. It continues to evolve and more of the workforce has begun to be composed of contract-based positions. Our current unemployment policies do not align with this evolution. We need to recognize that today’s economy contains drivers from Lyft and Uber, folks who work for food delivery services, photographers and designers and a whole host of freelancers. 

It’s critical we put legislation in place to help ensure all workers – no matter what industry they work in – receive the same protections W-2 workers receive. If we’re to be successful as a state in the future, we have to recognize the growing importance of gig-economy workers. 

We’ve also proposed lowering the high quarter wage threshold, which requires a worker to earn $3,744 in one of the two previous quarters to be eligible to receive benefits. This requirement makes it particularly challenging for workers, like those in the restaurant industry, who have high wage variance. 

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It’s also critical we allocate additional resources to help crack down on fraud and abuse and make necessary cybersecurity improvements. 

We owe it to the taxpayers to ensure that every dollar in the system goes to the people who need it the most.

It’s high time we fix our unemployment system, and we urge our colleagues in Lansing to give this plan a quick and fair hearing so we can get this legislation to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk and bring relief to Michiganders immediately. 

Curtis Hertel
State Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) is in his second term representing the 23rd District. He previously served as the Ingham County register of deeds and as an Ingham County commissioner.
Angela Witwer
State Rep. Angela Witwer is serving her first term representing the 71st House District, which includes much of Eaton County and the cities of the cities of Charlotte, Olivet, Potterville, Grand Ledge, parts of Lansing, as well as the townships of Bellevue, Benton, Carmel, Chester, Delta, Eaton Rapids, Kalamo, Oneida, Roxand, Sunfield, Vermontville, Walton and Windsor.