Michigan law clears way for part-timers to keep jobless aid

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LANSING — A law enacted Monday gives Michigan’s unemployment agency flexibility to stop seeking repayment of benefits from part-time workers who began qualifying when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

The bill, signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, is intended to resolve a conflict between state law and a new federal program — created in 2020 and extended into 2021 — that provided unemployment aid to people who otherwise were not eligible, including part-time employees. It retroactively specifies claimants seeking the benefits, which since have expired, could certify they were able and available for full-time or part-time work.

The sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, told a House committee last fall his legislation “targets just one very narrow problem within (a) larger universe of issues that our citizens are having with the Unemployment Insurance Agency.” He said it would clear up confusion for part-time workers who began getting benefits only to have to certify weekly they were able and available for full-time work — a requirement under Michigan law — even though they were part-time employees.

The state was asking some claimants to repay benefits, he said.

The law “will provide relief to thousands of people fighting with UIA over paperwork,” Irwin said Monday.

The state, which has come under scrutiny for paying out billions in fraudulent jobless benefits during the pandemic, has been granted expanded federal waivers so people do not have to return money if there was no fraud.

“I’ve always said that Michiganders should not be penalized for doing what was right at the time they applied for federal pandemic benefits,” the Democratic governor said.

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