Jun 25, 2009
Senate Republicans vote against Michigan workers
LANSING – Senate Republicans again voted against workers Wednesday, and left $140 million in federal funds that would have gone directly to Michigan workers who cannot feed their families on the table.
Senate Democrats tried to discharge House Bills 4785 and 4786 from the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee to the floor on Wednesday, but it was blocked along party lines. The bills, approved by the House on May 6, would provide unemployment benefits to individuals who are only available for and seeking part-time work and those in an approved job training program who have exhausted their regular benefits. It will pump $140 million in federal funds into Michigan which is suffering with double-digit unemployment, and Michigan cannot afford to give up that money for people who can only find part-time work and people who lost a job and are trying to learn new skills.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Prusi, D-Ishpeming, said Michigan unemployment is the worst it has been since 1983, and in 1983 he was one of those unemployed. He said he had to leave two small children behind in Michigan as an unemployed miner and find work in Colorado. He said he doesn’t want any more Michigan residents and families to have to go through that and leave the state.
“The only thing that helped keep my family together was the fact that I had extended unemployment benefits,” he said “There were 3,500 iron ore miners laid off, and you could not find a job in the Upper Peninsula to save your soul.”
Today’s ore miners are auto workers, and the need to diversify Michigan’s economy is paramount. The economic climate has also produced thousands of workers who are technically part-time because they work less than 40 hours a week, and employers also do not have to supply benefits like sick days and health benefits. If that type of worker lost their job, they would not be eligible for unemployment benefits under the current plan. In fact, part-time workers currently make up one-sixth of the nation’s workforce.
“These bills have sat long enough,” Prusi said. “Thousands of people are going without unemployment benefits because we refuse to act in this chamber, and I think now is the time to act before we break for the summer; before we let these families go without the unemployment benefits that supports them and supports their children.”
Opponents – primarily Republicans and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce - claim that once the stimulus money is gone in four years the employers will have to pay more in taxes to pay for the unemployment benefits. But most states, all with lower unemployment rates, have taken the money.