Whitmer laying off government workers as coronavirus hits Michigan budget

Michigan officials have sent emails to employees announcing 10-day "temprorary layoffs." (Shutterstock photo)

LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Wednesday temporarily laid off 2,903 state government employees, shaving about $5 million from what could be a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move followed roughly 100 temporary layoff notices issued Tuesday by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office, bringing the running total of state cuts to more than 3,000 jobs.

The temporary layoffs will last for 10 days, according to emails sent to government employees Wednesday morning and first reported by Bridge Magazine. The furloughed workers will not be paid but will retain their health insurance and other benefits, and the state is promising to automatically sign them up for unemployment insurance.

The layoffs are spread across departments but will only impact 6 percent of the state's 48,000 government workers.  After 10 days, the state will “reassess whether” additional unpaid days are needed, said Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown.

“This is a difficult decision but it is the right thing to do to ensure we can continue providing critical services to the people of Michigan,” Brown said in a statement.

The latest: Michigan coronavirus map, locations, updated COVID-19 news

Whitmer said  she's "made a lot of hard choices in the past six weeks. This was one of the hardest. But this is the right thing to do to ensure we can continue providing critical services to the people of Michigan."

The layoffs include 900 staffers within the Michigan Department of State, the majority of whom work in branch offices closed during the pandemic. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office noted that many driver and vehicle transactions can be carried out online and at self-service stations located in grocery stores across the state. 

“This is an extremely challenging time for our state, our state government, and our department,” Benson said in a statement. “This decision was not easy, but is necessary to responsibly steward taxpayer funds at this time.”

There were also 428 temporary layoffs within the Michigan Department of Corrections, 279 within the Treausury Department, 264 in the Department of Natural Resources and 201 within the Department of Health and Human Services, according to the state Budget Office. 

Nessel’s office issued temporary layoff notices to more than 100 people on Tuesday, about 25 percent of the department’s workforce, according to spokesperson Kelly Rossman-McKinney.

Legal work has dramatically increased in some areas of the department during the public health crisis but slowed in others, she said.

The layoffs reflect “the difficult reality that we all face,” McKinney said. “The staff at this department do amazing work on behalf of the people of this state every single day.  We will continue to do that, regardless of the challenges that arise in the future.”

As Bridge Magazine has reported, state officials are bracing for up to $7 billion in revenue losses over the next 18 months, including $3 billion in the current fiscal year that ends in October. Sales tax, income tax and even gas tax collections are expected to drop because of the pandemic and Whitmer orders that shut non-essential businesses across the state. 

Michigan is receiving about $3.8 billion in assistance from the federal government under the relief bill signed by President Donald Trump on March 27.  But it appears that money can only be used to cover new costs resulting from the public health crisis, not to fill budget holes created by the ensuing economic disaster.  

Whitmer said the federal money has "a lot of restrictions, so they don't help meet the needs of a lot of the issues we're going to feel" in the state budget. She said she is working with the congressional delegation to try to get more money for state governments, but "we're going to have to make some tough decisions"

 
Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican, last week called on Whitmer to temporarily layoff all non-essential state employees.
 
The furloughs announced Wednesday are "a start,” Stamas said, suggesting the administration should revisit the decision next week. “I’ve always said as we move through COVID-19, short periods of reassessing where we’re at is a positive way to go."
 
State workers “do an amazing job when they’re there and able to do their job,” he said, but many are already working from home and will be more critical in coming weeks when “we need to get the government up and running.”
 
Since April 5, Michigan has given “COVID-19 premium pay” to roughly 14,000 government workers on the frontlines of the pandemic who are a most at risk of contracting the virus, according to the state Budget Office.

Those workers within the departments of corrections, state police, natural resources, veterans affairs and health and human services can qualify for up to $750 in extra pay every two weeks, depending on their regularly scheduled hours.

The National Governors Association had urged Congress to include another $500 billion in “state stabilization funds” in its latest relief package, but the plan approved Tuesday by the U.S. Senate did not include any additional money for state or local governments.

“The magnitude of the crushing economic impact this virus has had on our states and residents cannot be overstated,” Whitmer and fellow governors from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania told Trump in a letter last week. 

“These cuts will undoubtedly lead to continued and major job losses in my state, where over 1 million new unemployment claims have been filed since March 15, a 5000 percent increase over a four-week period, representing roughly a quarter of the state’s workforce,” Whitmer wrote.

Whitmer said Monday she is taking a 10 percent pay cut from her $159,300 salary, a portion of which she’ll return to the state, and asked senior staffers in the executive office to take a 5 percent reduction.

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Comments

john
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 10:08am

Private sector out of work now months, government 10 days. Most government offices are closed, why are they being paid at all? They certainly are not essential.

Jake
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 1:52pm

John,
Loss of work for anyone is a terrible thing both private and public. Government offices may be closed, however, there are essential services that are still being provided behind the scenes for Michiganders.

Joey Lane
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 6:44pm

Lots of private jobs are also essential services, but sadly they do not have the same sort of political connections as the political class. The debate should not- nor should it ever have been- about a bunch of elites determining who has the right to work and who doesn't- the debate should have been about how to be safe.

middle of the mit
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 10:43pm

Joey Lane,

This is unfortunately the outcome of allowing money and corporations to be accepted as free speech and (paper)people.

When you allow concentrated wealth to consolidate and you beat down labor, wealth will always overcome. Isn't that what we ran away from in Europe?

This country made sure that labor couldn't consolidate like the wealthy interests can. They did that by demonizing Unions and making Associations sacrosanct. I mean, Association is in the constitution! It's in the First amendment!

Is Union anywhere in the constitution of the United States of America?

If you can't understand that................and you don't understand that a union is the same as an association...I can't help you.

You have a perception problem.

As far as how to be safe?

Listen to the doctors and nurses. Unless you think you know more about their job than they do? And in that case, maybe they should tell you how to do your job.

Jimbo
Sat, 05/02/2020 - 2:29pm

Newsflash, the privileged class in this country is GOVERNMENT and GOVERNMENT WORKERS. They are the ones lording their power over private sector workers, NOT corporations.

Jimbo
Sat, 05/02/2020 - 2:27pm

Yeah sure. "essential services". That's what they are telling us. Have you tried to get any of these "essential services"? And why should the rest of public sector workers sitting on their duffs not be laid off and on unemployment like the rest of us. Why do only private sector workers feel the pain of the governor's over-reach?

Jake
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 1:57pm

John,
Loss of work for both private and public sector is terrible. Even though most government offices may be closed, there are still services that the State provides to Michiganders that go unseen.

Timothy J. Bartik
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 10:17am

NGA had called for $500 billion in additonal fed assistance to states, not $500 million.

middle of the mit
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 11:11pm

Hey Karen!

Get a load of this!!

https://www.newsweek.com/fox-news-judge-rips-jared-kushners-proposed-cor...

Should we go with that company?

When is it that you Publicans are going to admit that you are fleecing the American people?

Never!!

Who is in charge of the State? Karen IS!

You are a States right person, no?

But, do you really think that The President of the United States, Donald J. Trump is doing the best of his abilities? Yeah, the problem is......so do I. And those abilities are sorely lacking. Notice I give The President more respect than you give our Governor? Why? I still don't know. I have yet to see our Governor talk about her ratings before she talked about what was happening to the State that she was elected to oversee.

Jimbo
Sat, 05/02/2020 - 2:32pm

You're consumed by hate for the president. TDS is a worse disease than Covid-19. At least there are treatments and a proposed vaccine for Covid. 3 1/2 years and we still don't have a treatment or vaccine for TDS. Your only hope is to stop listening to the lies and drivel our lamestream media infected you with.

Ronnie L
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 1:40pm

Whitmer, why are you commenting on articles about yourself?

pierredeboe
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 9:09pm

Taking lead from Trump, would'nt you think.

Rick Raisen
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 9:28pm

You posted this same comment on a dozen stories. Over and over you posted that Whitmer is a success because on one day Michigan only had the 7th most new cases in the United States instead of previously having the 3rd most new cases in the United States. You are "so proud" that Michigan went from having the 3rd worth results to the 7th worst results. You are a great example of the type of person who is a Whitmer supporter.

Cathy
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 12:31pm

Picked up an interesting article on a website called "Just Security", concerning Wm. Barr's dismantling charges from Mueller's report. Obviously in favor of the Russian's and Trump.

Arjay
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 2:07pm

How does this comment about how much you hate Trump get into a story about Michigan government employee layoffs? And for what it's worth, I say the most efficient government employees are the turkey vultures who immediately clean up all the road kill. No pay, no benefits, and they are at work 24 hours a day.

middle of the mit
Wed, 04/22/2020 - 10:48pm

[[[ I say the most efficient government employees are the turkey vultures who immediately clean up all the road kill. No pay, no benefits, and they are at work 24 hours a day.]]]

FINALLY!

Some conservative or libertarian admits what they consider efficient!

Some one who works 24 hours a day and doesn't require pay!! NO benefits!!

Confederate flag anyone?

You said it dude!

I just couldn't resist! It was laying there..... waiting.....

Laureen Williams
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 2:48pm

I love how the Governor's employees are automatically enrolled for unemployment benefits, but the rest of us have to sit with nothing. Online enrollment has been denied, online chat is disabled, there is no way to contact anyone via email. When you try to call the unemployment line the system says you cannot file over the phone and disconnects your call with no way to resolve an issue.

Jimbo
Sat, 05/02/2020 - 2:25pm

Letter to my NY State Senator

Senator, I have the greatest respect for you and your staff. You are the only public servant I have encountered who CARES about constituents, and I appreciate it. For that reason I am loathe to bring up this subject with you. But it MUST be said..

This time of year, public sector workers are normally repairing our roads, water pipes and sewage systems. They are teaching our children, issuing licenses and permits of all types, processing applications and tax refunds. Not so now. Most of our state, county, and local offices and schools are closed for business. Highway, water, and sewage workers are all sitting at home collecting their FULL PAY AND BENEFITS. Excepting a few teachers, who are broadcasting classes over the internet, the rest of the teachers and administrators are home collecting FULL PAY AND BENEFITS.

WHY? Are public sector worker better than the rest of us? Due to the governor's over-reach, thousands of private sector businesses have failed, destroying the livelihoods of owners and forcing MILLIONS onto unemployment. And that system isn't even working! Try and get a payment!

Governor governor has totally mismanaged this epidemic. He and Mayor DeBlasio failed to prepare the hospitals for the onset of the epidemic. It's well known that seniors with pre-existing conditions are by far, more susceptible to the virus, yet Cuomo ordered nursing homes, woefully unprepared to accept infectious patients, to accept them. Drunken with his newfound power, he has closed the state's schools for the year, even though children are the least susceptible to the illness. They should be building IMMUNITY!

Taxpayers are STILL paying teachers and administrators' salaries and benefits. We are paying bulldozer, backhoe, and dump truck operators full salary and benefits while they sit on their duffs. Eventually, when the epidemic ends, all this work still needs to get done. Taxes will skyrocket to pay for it. The roads are so pot-holed and torn up, they are dangerous.

There is no excuse for any of this. Highway and public works employees can practice social distancing just like they do in banks, grocery stores, the post office, and "essential" private sector jobs. Teachers should put a mask on, report to school, and TEACH. State and local offices INCLUDING the DMV should be issuing permits, licenses and plates and processing registrations. The Tax and unemployment offices need to get off their duffs, and process returns, refunds and unemployment refunds.

I'm afraid none of this is going to happen while the governor thinks he can pressure the federal government for a bailout of the State. I HOPE AND PRAY he never gets it, because he will forever expect handouts and NEVER get the bloated budget under control.. The ONLY way Governor Cuomo is going to feel any pressure to open up our economy is for him to start getting pressure from not just private sector workers, but PUBLIC SECTOR workers too.

Therefore I am proposing legislation that will demonstrate to the governor that his power grab is unacceptable. We need a RECIPROCITY law, that says for EVERY private sector worker laid off by the application of the Governor's executive orders, a PUBLIC SECTOR worker must be laid off. Sounds extreme? It is only fair Senator. Why should private sector workers be the only ones to feel the pain? Why shouldn't public sector workers feel some of the pain? I'm asking you to propose this legislation and convince the legislature to override a likely veto by the governor.

I'm not going to drop this idea senator. I'm getting on social media and proposing it to the masses. Private sector workers are being abused, and we are paying public sector workers to sit on their butts. It will ruin our economy.

Corey
Sun, 05/17/2020 - 2:00pm

Laid off state workers will get automatic unemployment insurance payments ?? What about the thousands of Michigan citizens still waiting for assistance ? I was qualified and had a determination four weeks ago and still nothing from unemployment ! Is the state gonna pay my bills for me too ? Won't be long and I'll be eating out of a dumpster myself.