LANSING — State Representative Scott Dianda (D-Calumet) introduced House Bill 5721 today to restore Michigan’s unemployment benefits to 26 weeks. Unemployment benefits were slashed to 20 weeks by legislative Republicans in 2011.

“Unemployment insurance helps workers who are trying to get back on their feet and find a job to let them support themselves and their families, but 20 weeks is a pitifully short time to find or retrain for a job,” said Dianda. “We need to restore unemployment benefits to 26 weeks if we want to keep our workers here in the Upper Peninsula, and elsewhere in the state, to keep Michigan’s economy growing.”

Dianda said that he is particularly worried about what will happen to U.P. families when Cleveland Cliffs Natural Resources closes their U.P. iron ore mine. Company CEO Lourenco Goncalves said in January of this year that the company’s Empire Mine would close some time this year. The Empire and Tilden Mines employ more than 1,000 workers. The company has already closed iron mines in Minnesota because the market and price for iron ore has dropped drastically. If it rebounds, the smaller Tilden Mine could stay open for maybe another 20 years. Some current miners are third- and fourth-generation miners. Retired miners have been able to stay in the U.P. because the job allowed them to save and supplement their benefits.

“A lot of hardworking Upper Peninsula families are going to be in harm’s way if the mine closes, and if these families leave the U.P., that will be devastating to our communities,” said Dianda. “When families leave because their UI benefits run out quickly, it will impact more than our economy. Families leave, and that means we have fewer kids here, and that hurts our schools. Fewer young people means it’s harder to keep the businesses we have and attract new business to the U.P. Expanding unemployment insurance back to 26 weeks will give these workers more time to find or train for another job, and that can be the difference in the U.P. between a thriving community or another mining ghost town.”