On this Christmas, more than half a million Michigan residents went without unemployment benefits at a time as there was no clear end to the pandemic. This happened because a series of federal programs made available under the Corona-virus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act which was set in March this year, were set to expire. Freelancers and self-employed workers who were on Pandemic Unemployment assistance (PUA) benefits, and who were about 465,000 Michigan residents were cut off on December 26th. Claimants who were filing for a regular benefit, had maxed out their 2 weeks, and had moved on to receive Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits, were cut off too.
According to the University of Michigan forecast, towards the end of the year, Michigan jobs in higher-wage industries are seen to be down from the peak to 4.2%, while the lower-wage industries were more likely to be down by 14.6% which are mostly held by women and minorities. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had called for the Michigan legislature to pass a $100 million stimulus package that includes direct financial support to families and small businesses. The Michigan residents however were offered some relief with eleventh-hour stimulus packages at both the federal and state levels.
Now Michigan Republican and Democratic lawmakers from both legislative chambers approved a $465 million relief package, extending state unemployment benefits to 26 weeks six months through March. The Gov. of Michigan is expected to sign the bill. Just yesterday President Donald Trump signed the bill passed by congress which was a $900 billion relief package that would provide a federal supplement to unemployment insurance of $300 through mid-March, and extend the PUA and PEUC programs. Though Trump last Tuesday allied the bill as a ‘disgrace’, he ultimately signed it Sunday evening after about 386,000 PUA claimants and the 234,000 PEUC filers in Michigan saw their benefits expire on Saturday.
Since September, when funds from the sources expired, claimants in Michigan have received a maximum of $362 per week. In October, another program came into effect, called Extended Benefits, or EB, a mostly federally funded program. The program was supposed to start when a state’s jobless rate averaged more than 8% for three consecutive months, and it offers an additional 20 weeks of benefits. To be eligible, claimants had to exhaust the 26 weeks of state benefits and the 13 weeks of PEUC.
Current Update on Employment Benefits
As of now, the PUA program will be extended till March 14 by the federal legislation. After this date, no new applicants will be accepted and all benefits are to end on April 5, according to Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency. PEUC will work similarly as PUA, which will extend its benefits to a total of 24 weeks for those who have finished with their benefits which also will now end on April 5. All claimants would also get a $300 supplemental benefit which would be running through the same time period. With the maximum of $362 offered by the state, the filers could actually go up to $662 per week. However while the EB program will continue, claimants of the PEUC and PUA programs should expect a delay in receiving their benefits, which are backdated to Dec. 27.
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As far as the benefits are concerned there’s no estimate available yet for then they could resume as things got expired on Saturday for most of them according to a spokesperson for Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency. She said that there could be a delay for obvious reasons and the agency will work as quickly as possible to implement the changes now. The EB is still available though and the claimants will be notified of any changes as they are monitoring the activities at present.
But is there an Uncertainty?
Kathy Shelton, a 59-year-old Auburn Hills resident, is worried because she’s exhausted the 39 weeks of available PUA benefits, and has no immediate job expectation. It’s still unclear who exactly will be eligible for the new set of benefits and how these various state and federal programs will interconnect with each other. Shelton’s career has been fluidity since a contract under which she provided organic hot lunches to a local private school expired two years ago. She took that time to focus on her writing, working at a community newspaper, but Shelton was laid off because of budget constraints. Shelton said, “I found that at this age, it’s really hard to reinvent yourself, So I’ve struggled with my jobs and I have done a bunch of different things.”
That only became more difficult in the pandemic. Finding a career was nearly impossible, she said, and even some temporary jobs she had dried up, such as driving a Kona shaved ice truck, senior care, and nannying.”When you’re a floater who depends on a lot of different streams of income and they all stop, it’s really, really hard to figure out how to make ends meet,” Shelton said.
Shelton was able to receive PUA benefits early on in the pandemic, but after the $600 federal supplement expired, sometimes she was receiving just $20 a week in benefits on top of a part-time job at a call center that pays $11 an hour. When the state’s suspension on evictions expired, she and her daughter were evicted from their apartment. Now, they’re living in an extended-stay hotel, and Shelton’s car is about to get repossessed, she said. Shelton should be eligible for an additional 11 weeks of benefits if she’s unemployed due to COVID-19, Robinson said, as the maximum amount of weeks have been extended to 50. However, she said there will be a delay in the extension.
Only a short-lived relief?
Even though COVID-19 cases are rising around the country and businesses are permanently closing their doors, the action taken at the federal and state level will only provide temporary relief, according to the economists and unemployment experts. The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute called the 11-week extension of PUA and PEUC benefits in a recent news release “wholly insufficient and guarantees millions will exhaust benefits by the middle of March when the virus will still be surging and job openings will still be scarce relative to the number of job seekers.” Meanwhile, Democratic state lawmakers and claimant advocates have been calling for a permanent extension of unemployment benefits to 26 weeks, up from 20, along with an increase in the weekly benefit amount.
Now, “This is a crisis for the Michigan worker,” said Rep. Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, on a call with reporters last month. “We are behind other states.”She called the permanent addition of six extra benefit weeks “the difference between staying at home while looking for work and losing their home.”She called the permanent addition of six extra benefit weeks “the difference between staying at home while looking for work and losing their home.”