Michigan has been one of the states most plagued by unemployment. To make matters worse, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is now making the state less friendly to the unemployed, who comprise 10.4 percent of the state’s population as of last month. On Monday, Snyder signed a bill into law that reduced state unemployment benefits to 20 weeks — making Michigan the only state in the nation to have an insurance period fewer than 26 weeks. Snyder should reconsider this drastic measure, which has clear, negative repercussions for the unemployed.
According to a March 28 New York Times article, the original bill was intended to reduce unemployment fraud and allow the long-term unemployed to continue receiving federal unemployment benefits — up to 99 weeks — after their state benefits ran out. This technical change in the law was necessary and beneficial to Michigan’s unemployed. Without it, 35,000 Michigan residents would have become ineligible for continued federal funds next week, and an additional 150,000 residents would be added to the list at the end of the year. However, the reduction of state benefits was slipped quietly into the bill, which was sold as a measure to protect the unemployed.
With Michigan’s high unemployment rate — which has stayed above 10 percent since the end of 2008, longer than any other state — it’s hard to justify this measure that affects a large portion of the population. Snyder and the Republican-led State Legislature have an obligation to help the unemployed. This bill risks driving the unemployed away from the state before they have the opportunity to get back on their feet. Thousands of families count on these benefits as a vital lifeline. Federal benefits are helpful for now, since the current 99 weeks of benefits reflects the difficulty of finding a job during this time in our nation, but this number is subject to change. Michigan’s reduction to 20 weeks of benefits, however, is permanent.
What’s also troubling about this bill is the quiet way Snyder went about it. The temporary federal benefits were publicized heavily. The press release from Snyder’s office about the bill even has a misleading title: “Snyder signs bill to protect unemployed.” The drastic six-week reduction of state benefits hardly seems to “protect unemployed.” The press release praises Snyder as a savior to the unemployed, but fails to mention the reduction of state benefits in any capacity. Advertising only one beneficial part of the bill is a move straight from the politician’s playbook. This is quite a political move for Snyder, who campaigned on being a businessman and not a politician.
Snyder did not need to make these cuts, and his efforts to not publicize them show his anticipation of their unpopularity. Spending cuts in other parts of the budget — for example, Michigan’s inflated corrections spending — should have been considered before targeting the unemployed.
This bill sets a dangerous precedent for the country. Currently, Florida lawmakers are working on a similar bill to become the second state with a 20-week unemployment insurance period. Michigan needs to be a welcoming place for all people to live and help the unemployed rather than cut their benefits.