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Whitmer: Michigan residents to keep getting $300 aid if they return to work

stimulus photo illustration
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the legislature are seeking ways to use federal COVID funds to incentivize more Michigan residents to pursue jobs this summer. (Shutterstock)

July 13: Michigan changed unemployment rules. Now 648,000 may have to repay benefits
June 22: Michigan drops COVID-19 safety restrictions in most workplaces
June 17: Michigan House Republicans: End $300 pandemic unemployment benefit

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan Monday to repurpose federal unemployment benefits to encourage more laid-off employees to return to work.

At a morning press conference, Whitmer said certain employees laid off during the pandemic and receiving federal unemployment benefits will continue receiving weekly $300 payments through September 4 if they return to the jobs they previously held.

The measure will use federal unemployment benefits provided by the American Rescue Plan on top of their work salary if their employers are participating in the state’s Work Share program.

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Whitmer said she also hopes to collaborate with the legislature to make new hires eligible for the back-to-work incentive. She said the move should support businesses in need of employees and boost the state’s economic recovery.

“This is how we encourage people to get back to work without paying a price or making false choices,” Whitmer said, without offering information on timing or other details. 

“Legislative action on these items would mean more opportunity for workers, more ways for businesses to attract and retain new and returning employees and greater work schedule flexibility for everyone as we work to defeat COVID-19 together,” she continued.

With COVID-19 case numbers declining across the country and Michigan set to remove all pandemic-restrictions on businesses by July 1, officials in the state are looking for ways to encourage more residents to return to work after a tumultuous year.

The state 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.

In May, Michigan reinstated the requirement that those who are unemployed need to demonstrate they are searching for a job in order to qualify for benefits.

Through Michigan’s Work Share program, employees returning to their business with reduced hours and wages are eligible to receive partial state unemployment benefits, essentially allowing a part-time employee to be paid as if they were working full-time. Whitmer’s proposal would allow such employees to receive an additional $300 on top of their income.

The Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity website illustrates how the WorkShare program would affect an employee who normally receives $1,000 in weekly wages. If an employer sought to rehire the employee while reducing their salary and hours by 30 percent, they would have a weekly salary of $700, but they would also receive 30 percent of state unemployment benefits, bringing their salary up to $808. The proposal to offer $300 federal unemployment checks would increase the worker’s salary to $1,108.

In April, House Republicans advanced a budget bill that proposed using federal relief funding to give jobless residents $1,000 if they found employment.

The Detroit Regional Chamber previously proposed using federal relief dollars to bring jobless Michiganders back into the workforce through grants that would go to employees returning to their old jobs and to employers for hiring new employees.

Brad Williams, vice president of government relations with the Detroit Regional Chamber, said the proposal would help expand the labor market and support businesses looking to resume normal operations. 

“We're really excited to work with the Governor on this plan as well to make the labor force bigger so that we can get people back to work and let folks open their business back up and provide the level of service to their customers that they need,” Williams said.

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