LANSING - With the state's economy starting to slow down, many workers are realizing that Unemployment Insurance ain't what it used to be.
In 1995, Gov. John Engler and the Republican-dominated state legislature permanently capped UI benefits at $300 per week, with no mechanism to adjust for inflation. If that bill had not passed into law, the maximum Unemployment Insurance benefit would now be $414.39 cents a week.
Last month, the Michigan Democratic Caucus announced legislation to increase the Unemployment Insurance tax cuts that state businesses have enjoyed since 1995. House Bill 9188 also restores unemployment benefit levels to where they were at six years ago.
Even with the employer tax cuts, reductions in worker benefits helped the UI Trust Fund to grow to a record $3.067 billion at the end of last year. In 1995, state Democrats argued that taxes could be cut and benefits increased every year by using the Trust Fund - but the fund has gone untapped.
With the cuts having been in place for the last six years, Michigan now ranks 29th in maximum weekly unemployment benefits. If the cuts hadn't been imposed, Michigan today would rank 9th, according to the state Unemployment Agency.
"The Republicans didn't just cut benefits in 1995, they've been cutting benefits for the past six years," said Davison Democrat Rose Bogardus, sponsor of the bill. "The buying power of a $300 unemployment check is less and less each year. Income security must keep pace with the cost of living, or the only security families will have is a false sense of security."
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce works hand-in-hand with state Republicans on any matter that could affect state's business climate. Reportedly, Chamber Vice President for
Government Affairs Rich Studley's response to the concept of increasing worker benefits was summed up with the statement, "the short answer to their proposal is 'hell no.'"
With Republicans completely in control in Lansing, probably not much good will come out of this bill except the public attention. The bill is in Rep. Robert Gosselin's committee, and he has proved to be one of the most anti-worker lawmakers in the House.
Michigan AFL-CIO Legislative Assistant Ken Fletcher said Republicans may agree to a slight increase of $20 a week in benefits, but they want something in return for their largesse. Studley said the chamber is looking for the imposition of a waiting week for benefits or new restrictions on benefit eligibility, and doing a better job of denying benefits to persons discharged due to misconduct.
If you voted Republican in last November's election, this is how your vote is working for you.