As Michigan’s economy continues to crumble under the strain of a failing auto industry, more and more Michigan residents find themselves without employment. And as Michigan’s economy shifts away from a manufacturing base, these workers need extensive training to find new jobs. To remedy the problem, the state House of Representatives recently passed two bills that extend benefits to unemployed workers participating in long-term training. Sweetening the deal, the cash to pay for extended benefits isn’t coming out of the pockets of the state’s taxpayers, but from the federal government’s stimulus funds. Considering the positive effects the bills will have, the Senate should ensure that they make it to the governor’s office and become law.

The current unemployment program in Michigan requires recipients be actively seeking full-time employment to receive unemployment benefits. On Wednesday, the House passed two amendments to the Michigan Employment Security Act that, if signed into law, will make 26 additional weeks of benefits available to unemployed workers in state-approved training programs and those looking for part-time jobs. The money to fund the extension would come from $138.9 million in federal stimulus funding that the state would qualify for if it passes the bills.

Republicans have justified their opposition to the bills by arguing that after the federal money runs out, the state will have no choice but to raise unemployment insurance taxes on businesses. The House’s Fiscal Agency estimates that costs to businesses would be $69.7 million annually. Republicans claim that when small businesses are forced to cut costs to pay the taxes, they will eliminate jobs and unemployment will increase.

These are valid concerns — hurting small businesses won’t heal the economy. But opponents of the bills fail to account for their benefits. Workers currently unemployed and on approved job training programs are eligible for unemployment benefits for up to 59 weeks. But some of these workers need more time to learn new skills and find a job in an in-demand field. Supporting workers while they train will ensure that they have the resources to adapt to Michigan’s evolving economy. Educating the workforce will also fill technical and scientific positions that encourage economic recovery.

Opponents of the bills also forget that the costs of the extension will be paid for by federal stimulus funding specifically marked for these extensions. Considering Michigan’s current economic crisis, creating laws to help the unemployed is a worthwhile effort, especially with more than $100 million in federal cash to foot the bill. And giving workers more time to complete vocational training and re-enter the workforce increases the chance that there won’t be as high a demand for unemployment benefits as the federal money runs out.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country at a depressing 12.6 percent. These bills would not only provide short-term relief to workers, but also the necessary means — by way of training for high-demand occupations — to resuscitate the state’s economy. The Senate needs to recognize that these bills help Michigan’s workers and — best of all — do so at no immediate cost to the state.

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