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Effort Stopped To End Federal $300 Unemployment Top-Off Early

June 29, 2021

Thursday, the Republican-led Legislature sent to the Governor legislation that ends early the federal government’s $300-per-week top-off of workers’ unemployment benefits, but the bill is functionally dead on arrival. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer isn’t likely to sign HB 4434. Still, Senate Democrats held off enough votes to deny the bill immediate effect. It means the Rep. Jeff Yaroch (R-Richmond) bill that ends a federal bonus that’s supposed to go away Sept. 6 wouldn’t go into effect until late March 2022 if signed. 
 
Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association CEO Justin Winslow implored the Governor to support ending the benefit so the unemployed would have an incentive to go back to work. The supplemental benefit was needed during the height of the COVID-19 emergency, he said, but no longer. 
 
“We now live in a restriction-free Michigan with an abundance of safe and effective vaccines, yet restauranteurs and hoteliers are unable to fill innumerable openings at wages rising at twice the rate of any other industry,” Winslow said. 
 
HB 4434 passed the House on Jun. 17, with Rep. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet) having targeted the boost on grounds that the enhanced federal benefits “disincentivize reentering the workforce.” 
 
Sens. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and Paul Wojno (D-Warren) each offered amendments to secure aid that were shot down by Republicans on the floor. 
 
Wojno’s alteration aimed to unfasten the legislation, keeping families equipped with federal assistance until the September deadline. However, Moss’s amendment would have expanded the Work Share program, where employers can bring back workers with decreased hours and employees are given unemployment benefits to make up for a fragment of lost wages. 
 
Whitmer wrapped this concept into her Back to Work incentive, adding at her Monday press conference “we need the Legislature to help us on that.” 
 
“This is about making sure that Michigan comes out of this pandemic in the strongest possible shape,” she said. “To wage this kind of class warfare that some want to win and penalize people who are on the fringes, struggling to get by, I think it’s the wrong thing and it hurts too many people, and that’s why we want to use these resources as incentives to bolster a paycheck.” 
 
The bill passed the Senate on a party-line 19-16 vote. The House concurred in the Senate changes and sent it to the Governor, 59-49, with Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) and Rep. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) joining Republicans in voting yes. 
 
Later this afternoon, the Michigan AFL-CIO issued a press release condemning Republican lawmakers for their actions against the Back to Work incentive, describing it as “yet another political stunt” to strip away $300 of weekly assistance instead of “passing much-needed COVID relief aid dollars and finishing the state budget by their own self-imposed July 1 deadline.” 
 
“Republicans should stop trying to take money out of the pockets of folks who are unemployed through no fault of their own,” said President Ron Bieber of the Michigan AFL-CIO. “The Legislature should be working to make sure every Michigander share in the gains from that recovery, not launching attacks on people who were hit hardest by last year’s economic collapse and trying to ship unemployment aid funds back to Washington, D.C.” 
 
On Wednesday, the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) reported 47% of small businesses described finding and keeping employees as the biggest problem facing their operations, while more than half increased employee wages since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
According to SBAM’s survey, conducted from Jun. 8-18 with 600 responses, 50% of Michigan’s small businesses are expecting to increase the size of their workforce over the approaching six months. 
 
In the Detroit Regional Chamber’s massive polling data released on Jun. 7, individuals who were employed before the COVID-19 pandemic and were back on the job hunt described their biggest barriers toward finding access into the work sector as: 
 
– 22.9% said they did not feel safe or cited virus safety 
 
– 14.3% said it was a lack of good pay or benefits 
 
– 11.4% expressed it being due to their age or health 
 
– 8.6% described a need for childcare 
 
“The data demonstrates multiple factors are preventing employees from returning to work. While 14.3% of respondents indicated ‘lack of good pay,’ which likely encompasses the impact of the federal $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefits, other factors are likely the primary reasons for workers not returning to the workplace,” the Chamber provided as its insight on “The Labor Shortage in Michigan.” 

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