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Michigan House Republicans: End $300 pandemic unemployment benefit

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Michigan Republicans joined colleagues in other states in voting to end enhanced unemployment benefits, arguing they hurt employers. Economists and others say there are other reasons for the tight labor market.

July 13: Michigan changed unemployment rules. Now 648,000 may have to repay benefits

LANSING — With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in sight, Michigan House Republicans on Thursday voted to end enhanced unemployment assistance for jobless residents nearly three months early.

In doing so, they joined GOP legislators in more than a dozen other states who are ending the $300 weekly benefit in an effort to help business owners struggling to find employees amid a tight labor force.

Businesses that survived forced shutdowns and financial benefits are now "struggling to bounce back and compete with these enhanced federal benefits that disincentivize re-entering the workforce," Rep. Pauline Wendzel, R-Watervliet, said in a floor speech. 

"These aren't greedy corporations. These are mom-and-pop shops."

Related:

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier Thursday announced the state will roll back all business capacity limits and facemask rules on Tuesday because of continued declines in COVID-19 case counts and increased vaccination rates.

The first-term Democrat is not expected to sign legislation ending the $300 a week pandemic benefit, which is set to continue through early September. 

Instead, Whitmer has proposed using a state "work share" program to offer the same benefit to returning employees as an incentive to rejoin the workforce.

Democrats cited the governor’s plan as they voted against the GOP amendment, which passed the House in a 60-49 vote. 

The enhanced benefit "may not seem like a lot to those of us who earn a decent living, but to the families receiving this $300 per week, this is the difference between feeding their children or going hungry," said state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor.

"This is the difference between having a roof over your head or an eviction."

Business groups celebrated the House vote.

Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said 26 other states no longer offer the federal benefits, which he described as “necessary at the beginning of COVID but are now, in fact, proving to be harmful.”

The effects are acute in businesses related to tourism and retail, where “there are still more job openings than there are applicants for those positions," Studley said.

“What our members are hearing is that as long as people can collect (up to) $362 a week in regular state unemployment benefits plus another $300 a week in federal extended unemployment benefits, they’re not going to apply for job opportunities,” Studley said. 

Michigan had an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, representing about 231,000 jobless workers. 

However, another 216,000 workers are no longer in the labor force, compared to just before the pandemic, when 4.91 million state residents were employed or actively looking for a job.

Paula Gardner and Arjun Thakkar contributed to this report.

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