Gov. Whitmer vetoes bill to cut off extra unemployment benefit

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LANSING — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday vetoed a Republican-sponsored bill that would have stopped a $300 weekly federal supplement that is being added to unemployed workers’ benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.

The extra payment is due to end Sept. 4 under federal law. The GOP-controlled Legislature wanted to terminate it July 31, contending that the money discourages people from rejoining the workforce. If the governor had signed the legislation, the change would not have actually occurred, however, because Senate Democrats did not agree to give the measure immediate effect.

Whitmer’s office said she had been working on a deal with lawmakers and business groups to discontinue the enhanced benefit in favor of a plan to help more people get back to work. In a letter to lawmakers, she said the bill would have violated federal law by ending the payment without 30 days’ notice. The legislation also would not have taken effect until 2022, by which time it would have been moot, she said.

“Moreover, ending these enhanced UI benefits on July 31, as proposed by HB 4434, would drain $1.5 billion from our economy — money that will instead flow into our local economies and support small businesses,” the governor wrote.

She said she is open to stopping the enhanced benefit early if legislators swiftly allocate $1.4 billion in federal child care aid and increase Michigan’s maximum benefit — now $362 a week — so it is commensurate with those in neighboring states.

The conservative Michigan Freedom Fund criticized Whitmer’s veto, saying about 300,000 fewer residents are working than when the pandemic struck in early 2020.

“We’re never going to help struggling local businesses until we stop spending extra tax dollars to keep people out of the workforce,” executive director Tori Sachs said in a statement.

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