LANSING, Mich., June 29, 2020 — House Democrats introduced legislation last week to strengthen unemployment protections and expand benefits, providing support for workers during the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. House Bills 5882-5889 expand on changes proposed by House Dems last Fall, focusing on fixing some of the shortcomings in Michigan’s unemployment system by expanding benefits and eligibility as part of their Michigan Strong Plan.
“Many Michiganders lost their jobs through no fault of their own during this pandemic,” said state Rep. Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon). “The UIA is supposed to help them face these challenges, but this crisis exposed many of the shortcomings in our unemployment system and made it clear that an immediate fix is required. I consider this package a continuation of the unemployment reform that my colleagues and I introduced last September, but now with a renewed urgency.”
Among the provisions in the 8-bill package is legislation to allow workers to collect unemployment benefits during a state declared emergency concerning infectious diseases. This would enable Michigan workers to stay at home to care for their kids should schools close or care for an ill or infected family member, or quarantine, self-quarantine, or self-isolate themselves because they are immunocompromised, sick, or exposed to a sick person.
“The unprecedented number of Michiganders applying for benefits brought to light many long-standing issues with our unemployment system,” said Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township). “Providing adequate support allows workers to pay their bills and put food on the table when an unexpected crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic derails our lives.”
The package would also increase the weekly benefit amount to 6.1 percent of a worker’s highest quarter earnings. Michigan’s weekly benefit rate is currently at 4.1 percent, which is one of the lowest in the country and leaves many families struggling to put food on their tables and pay their bills.
Additional bills would allow seasonal and low-wage school employees to collect unemployment benefits during the off-season and lower the quarterly earnings requirement, as well as require employers to keep track of all their employees’ declared tips and report them on their quarterly reports to the unemployment agency. It was discovered that many restaurants were not properly reporting the wages of their waitstaff, including tips, when many restaurant workers began receiving far less unemployment benefits than expected.
“It’s so important that we do everything we possibly can right now to help our communities get through these tough times,” said Angela Witwer (D-Delta Twp.). “Lowering the high quarter earnings eligibility requirements by over $2,000 would enable so many, such as part time workers and restaurant servers, to get what they need to support themselves during times of crisis.”
In addition to Sabo, Lasinski and Witwer, bill sponsors include state Reps. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor), Sheryl Kennedy (D-Davison), Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw) and Brian Elder (D-Bay City). All eight bills in this package have been referred to the House Committee on Government Operations.