Some jobless workers in Michigan could qualify for up to 59 weeks of unemployment benefits due to a federal extension triggered by the state’s high unemployment rate due to COVID-19.
An additional 20 weeks of benefits are now possible for the laid-off workers who qualified for benefits through the state's regular program paid from the Michigan Unemployment Trust Fund.
Not eligible for the extension are the people who filed for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) plan, like self-employed, part-time or “gig” workers.
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The Federal Extended Benefits program kicks in when the state’s unemployment rate averages 8 percent or higher for three consecutive months. That made the state eligible in July, even as the unemployment rate fell to a seasonally adjusted 8.7 percent, the same rate recorded in August.
"The Extended Benefit program will provide a much-needed safety net for Michiganders who have exhausted their current benefits and are still dealing with the long-term effects of unemployment due to COVID-19," Steve Gray, director of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency, said in a news release.
At least 2.3 million Michigan residents have applied for jobless benefits since March 15, collecting $24 billion in benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another 93,000 are awaiting final processing or a decision on claims.
That means nearly half of the state’s workforce of 4.9 million has experienced some job disruption, ranging from furlough weeks to permanent job loss.
News of the benefits extension comes as unemployment fraud once again is slowing payment to some jobless workers. Claims for at least 400,000 people in Michigan were delayed in summer as identity fraud plagued unemployment systems across the United States.
An estimated 900,000 people were eligible for an extra $300 for six consecutive weeks of payments starting Aug. 1, but state officials said an increase in fraud attempts is keeping all of them from seeing the money.
“The higher supplemental benefit attracts additional criminal attention and unemployment agencies across the country remain under attack,” according to the state.
At one point, 28,000 people were still waiting to receive those benefits. Over the past two weeks, that number jumped to 80,000 because they were flagged by the system for identity verification.
The 20-week extension expands payments for the unemployed far beyond pre-pandemic levels. Michigan used to offer 20 weeks of unemployment through its regular program paid from the Michigan Unemployment Trust Fund.
Employers pay into that fund, and the state has a formula for determining payments. The maximum benefit is $362 per week.
The average weekly benefit amount in August was $298, or about $200 for people qualifying under PUA.
As coronavirus spread, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used Executive Order 2020-76 to add six more weeks of compensation for workers with claims active as of March 15, and claims filed through April 18.
People receiving “regular” jobless benefits also became eligible for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which under the federal CARES Act added 13 weeks of benefits.
That means they would get 39 weeks of benefits, with the PEUC kicking in after the first 26 weeks of benefits are exhausted.
However, any payments authorized by the CARES Act — either through the PUA or the 13-week extension period —could come to a halt at the end of the year .
“The CARES Act is set to expire Dec. 31 and anyone receiving benefits on one of those programs, even if they have weeks remaining, will no longer receive them unless Congress extends it,” Jason Moon, spokesperson for the UIA, said in an email to Bridge Michigan.