March 28, 2011- Michigan, whose unemployment rate has topped 10 percent longer than that of any other state, is about to set another record: its new Republican governor, Rick Snyder, signed a law Monday that will lead the state to pay fewer weeks of unemployment benefits next year than any other state.
Democrats and advocates for the unemployed expressed outrage that a such a hard-hit state will become the most miserly when it comes to how long it pays benefits to those who have lost their jobs. All states currently pay 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, before extended benefits paid by the federal government kick in. Michigan’s new law means that starting next year, when the federal benefits are now set to end, the state will stop paying benefits to the jobless after just 20 weeks. The shape of future extensions is unclear.
The measure, passed by a Republican-led Legislature, took advocates for the unemployed by surprise: the language cutting benefits next year was slipped quietly into a bill that was originally sold as way to preserve unemployment benefits this year.
The original bill was aimed at reducing unemployment fraud and making a technical change so the state’s current long-term unemployed could continue receiving extended unemployment benefits from the federal government for up to 99 weeks — benefits that would have been phased out next week without a change in the state law to make the unemployed in the state eligible to continue receiving benefits. Republican lawmakers amended it to cut the length of benefits starting in January.
“It turns the clock back 50 years at a time when unemployment is at historic highs since the Depression,” Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said in an interview, adding that he worried that the state would set a precedent that would be followed by other states, including Florida, that are thinking of curtailing their unemployment programs. “I think that Michigan should not be to unemployment insurance what Wisconsin has become to collective bargaining.”