Whitmer signs unemployment extension, angers GOP in vetoing $220M ‘giveaway’ to big businesses

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo
Updated, 12:44 p.m. 12/29/20

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed a $106 million bipartisan COVID-19 stimulus bill as well as an extension of jobless benefits for those impacted by the pandemic for an extra six weeks.

“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 eliminate COVID-19 once and for all,” said 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 bill contains $55 million to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19, including grants of up to $20,000 that will be made available to small businesses and $3.5 million for grants of up to $40,000 each for live music and entertainment venues. There also is $45 million in direct payments to workers who have been laid off or furloughed as a result of the virus.

“After zooming a few weeks ago with Governor Whitmer, we are thrilled that she heard our cry for help,” said Jenna Arcidiacono, owner of Amore Trattoria in Comstock Park. “Many restaurants will not survive without financial support. This gives us hope after the devastating year we have endured.”

The GOP-led Legislature didn’t send the stimulus to the governor until Dec. 21, days after voting was supposed to end in the chambers for the year. Negotiations took weeks and the House was delayed after COVID-19 exposure from President Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who testified before a House panel on the election. Some GOP lawmakers complained this week Whitmer took too long to sign the bill.

Whitmer also line-item vetoed items that she said weren’t part of the bipartisan agreement, including $220 million she called a “giveaway of taxpayer money to the employer-owned Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund,” which is designed to help businesses fund benefits for laid off workers.

House approves $465 million COVID-19 relief before year-end

“General fund dollars must be used to fund essential services like vaccines and PPE, not to give tax breaks to big businesses,” a press release from the governor’s office said.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) tweeted his displeasure.

“At a time when Michiganders need it most, @GovWhitmer vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits. Unemployment cannot be extended without these funds. We are dismayed by her decision to leave families without the assistance they desperately need,” he wrote.

Whitmer Deputy Chief of Staff Zack Pohl responded on Twitter that wasn’t accurate: “This is a lie. The governor did not veto ANY benefits. Here’s the truth: you could come in and make the extension of unemployment benefits to 26 weeks permanent tomorrow, but wait… you’ve adjourned for the year and won’t be back for – checks notes – over two weeks.”

Whitmer also signed 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.

“No Michigander should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a global pandemic,” said 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. 40 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.”

The state has paid out nearly $27 billion in benefits to nearly 2.3 million workers since March.

Trump on Sunday signed a federal COVID relief bill that extends benefits to self-employed and gig workers and provides all unemployment recipients with an additional $300 per week, impacting nearly 700,000 Michigan workers.

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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.