LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Rick Snyder on Monday made Michigan the first state in the country to lower the number of weeks jobless workers can get state benefits, a trend other cash-strapped states may follow as a way to avoid taxing businesses more for unemployment benefits.
Snyder said he signed the bill reducing state benefits from 26 to 20 weeks because it will allow people out of a job now to get up to 20 more weeks of help from a federal program for those who used up their state and most of their regular federal unemployment benefits. The change will allow them to extend unemployment benefits to 99 weeks.
Those last 20 weeks of federal benefits would have expired for 35,000 Michigan residents in early April and for 150,000 residents by the end of 2011 if Snyder hadn’t signed the bill by Friday.
“Cutting them off so abruptly would have jeopardized the well-being of those who are trying hard to find work,” Snyder said in a release after signing the bill in private.
But critics, including Michigan’s entire Democratic congressional delegation, said the Republican governor should have vetoed the bill rather than sign cuts in state jobless benefits into law. Michigan’s unemployment rate has been one of the nation’s highest for the past five years.
A letter urging Snyder to veto the bill was signed by Michigan’s two U.S. senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, as well as Democratic Reps. Hansen Clarke, John Conyers, John Dingell, Dale Kildee, Gary Peters and Sander Levin.
“Michigan would be the only state to have 20 weeks of state unemployment insurance and the first state to reduce benefits during a period of high unemployment. These are two distinctions we do not want for our state,” they wrote in the letter. They noted that Michigan’s action could cause federal benefits to be reduced by an additional 16 weeks in Michigan, possibly costing jobless workers 22 weeks of state and federal benefits.