Wojno bill seeks to restore unemployment benefits to 26 weeks

By: Brian Louwers | Metro | Published February 19, 2021

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LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s veto of a $220 million deposit into the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund raised questions for some about recent bipartisan legislation that would temporarily extend unemployment benefits for new filers.

In a separate legislative move, state Sen. Paul Wojno, D-Warren, has introduced a bill that would permanently restore the number of available weeks from 20 to a maximum of 26, a limit that was in place prior to a six-week reduction put forth by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2013.

Wojno said he originally introduced the bill in August 2019, but it didn’t get a hearing in the Senate at the time. Other attempts to roll back a reduction in weeks of available state unemployment payments, put forth during a lame duck legislative session and later signed by Snyder, suffered a similar fate.

Given the steps now being taken to shore up benefits for the state’s workers, Wojno said he thought it was a good time to revisit the issue of a permanent restoration, one he said would put Michigan in line with a majority of other states at 26 weeks.

“It was not introduced because of the pandemic. It was introduced (previously) prior to the pandemic. It just kind of fits into the discussion right now,” Wojno said. “I know we have bipartisan support. I have not spoken to the committee chair yet asking for a hearing.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the bill during a news conference on Feb. 9, where she called on the state Legislature to get any available federal dollars deployed through the state’s COVID-19 recovery plan.

“Congress did their part. Now we need our state Legislature to do theirs,” Whitmer said. “I was pleased that Sen. Paul Wojno has introduced a bill to do this. I am hopeful that both sides of the aisle can come together and get this done, and I continue to extend my hand in partnership to anyone who wants to focus on these fundamentals, because this is what our economy is going to depend on the most, and we know how important it is for the health of our people.”

In December, Michigan lawmakers passed bipartisan legislation that would have temporarily extended the maximum number of available weeks from 20 to 26 for new claims until March 31. Whitmer signed the extension on Dec. 29, but Senate Republicans later said her line item veto of a $220 million deposit into the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund that helps businesses pay for benefits for laid off workers negated the extension.

A Feb. 18 press release from the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency claimed the trust fund was healthy and that the state would not have to borrow from the federal government to cover unemployment benefits in 2021.