Gov. Whitmer Signs Bills to Extend Unemployment, Doubles Down on Safety Concerns

Saying “This virus is not done with us yet, and it doesn’t care about a Supreme Court ruling,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer stepped to the podium again today to bemoan the recent surge in the coronavirus pandemic numbers in Michigan and elsewhere across the nation, and is doubling down on her bid to get residents to continue to wear masks, wash hands regularly and keep social distancing especially with colder weather at hand. To re-emphasize her encouragement, the governor wore a face mask throughout her entire press conference for the first time ever. She often arrives at the podium wearing a mask, but removes it to speak. Today she, and all other speakers who addressed the press conference, remained masked for the full event.

She and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive in the state of Michigan voiced concern about new outbreaks, and continue to appeal for safety precautions. They reported today, “We’ve seen a steady rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” and added, “We are now at our peak when it comes to daily new cases, a peak higher than the peak we saw in April.” Whitmer also pledged, “I want you to know that I’m going to use every tool at my disposal to keep you and your family safe.”

You can see the graphs the governor used in her press conference today by clicking this link:

GovernorsPowerPointGraphs102120

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The governor also delivered news that she has signed Senate Bills 886 and 991 codifying part of her executive orders expanding unemployment benefits to Michiganders. The bills the governor signed Tuesday will extend 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 the year. Senate Bills 886 and 991 were both sponsored by Republican Senator Ken Horn of Frankenmuth.

Gov. Whitmer says, “No Michigander should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a global pandemic,” and adds, “These bipartisan bills are an important step in providing immediate relief for working families, but given the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Michigan, 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 at the end of the year. It’s time to work together on a long-term solution for working families.”

While the bills signed by the governor codify the majority of her executive orders on unemployment, she continues to voice concern that the legislature has failed to extend her efforts to speed up claim processing by allowing UIA to review only a claimant’s most recent employer separation. UIA must now evaluate every job a worker has left in the past 18 months – which Whitmer calls “a waste of resources because employers are not being directly charged for benefits paid at this time.”

Rep. Darrin Camilleri from Brownstown, says, “When we get back to session I look forward to taking up our bills to expand unemployment benefits and create stronger pathways to get Michigan families the resources they need during a pandemic.”

Sandy Baruah, President & CEO of the Detroit Chamber, says, “The talent pipeline is an ongoing challenge in segments of the economy, however many other workers are still struggling and this legislation provides certainty for them and employers that the unemployment system will stay stable and funded for foreseeable future allowing successful programs like workshare to flourish.”

Ron Bieber, President of the Michigan AFL-CIO, says, “Michigan’s working people are grateful to the legislature for taking action to patch some of the holes in our state’s safety net that were ripped open weeks ago by a narrow Supreme Court decision, but this virus isn’t going to disappear just because we are tired of it, and it certainly won’t be doing so on or around December 31st.” He adds, “Leadership should call them back from their extended vacation – after making the fixes to unemployment insurance permanent, they still have plenty of work to do to keep people safe and healthy, and address the economic devastation still rippling from our national failure to effectively deal with the virus.”

Governor Whitmer says that from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her administration have worked around the clock to ensure benefits for Michiganders who have lost work because of the virus. Since March 15th, her administration has paid over $25 billion in benefits to 2.2 million workers.

She also points out that one of the first actions she took during the pandemic was to expand eligibility for unemployment benefits to workers who have an unanticipated family care responsibility, workers who are sick, quarantined, or immunocompromised, and first responders who become ill or are quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19. Michigan was one of the first states to begin issuing the additional $600 pandemic benefit from the U.S. government.