Whitmer: Michigan to use federal $300 unemployment bonus as back-to-work incentive

Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants to expand how Michigan uses federal unemployment benefits to encourage Michiganers to return to work after the COVID-19 pandemic, she announced on Monday.
The plan provides for a bonus of $ 300 per week to certain employees who return to their previous jobs by Sept. 4, Whitmer said during a wide-ranging press conference.
She didn't say when the program would start, how many people are expected to be eligible, or what deadlines are allowed for those returning to work.
The payments are currently only available to employers who participate in the state's work-sharing program and bring back previously employed people, said Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy.
But the governor is working with the legislature to change the law to provide bonuses for every new employee hired by a company through a workshare program, not just those previously employed who are brought back. Leddy said more details would be available later this week.
“We're going to use the $ 300 a week in unemployment benefits to our advantage so that we can incentivize people to return to work, maximize family incomes, and help employers fully understand their businesses and employees to build, ”said Whitmer.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer announces an incentive program for workers returning to work and a $ 1.4 billion plan to expand access to childcare during a press conference at a daycare center in Troy on Monday, June 14, 2021 .
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The amount of money is the same amount available to those unemployed due to the pandemic, a payment Whitmer describes as the wrong choice.
“In general, people would have to make a decision: either you take this or you go back to work. We don't want people to make these wrong choices that make people fail. We want to encourage people to get back into the workplace, "said Whitmer.
“We're using this as a bridge to return to full employment, and we're still withdrawing this (money) on top of your paycheck. And this is a great way for professionals to get back on track without paying a price or having to make an unscrupulous decision - will I stay out and do a little more or do I jump back in and benefit from both? "
Under the state labor-sharing scheme, an employee whose wages and hours are cut by a company can earn back part of the money lost through unemployment. For example, if an employee receives a 30% weekly wage cut under this program, that employee is entitled to 30% of the benefits they would receive if they were completely unemployed.
The proposal that Whitmer discussed on Monday would also entitle that employee to the additional $ 300 that is earmarked for unemployment benefits.
A company cannot lay off employees after joining the workshare program. However, a workplace that tries to reopen its doors during the pandemic may use the program to bring employees back at a reduced rate, according to the state.
A government example describes an employer who wants to bring back 100 employees and resume business at 70% utilization for 12 weeks.
An employee is hired on a hypothetical salary of $ 1,000 per week but with a 30 percent cut in wages and hours as permitted by the workshare program.
That would be a weekly salary of $ 700 plus 30% of eligible unemployment benefit, $ 108.50. Add in the extra $ 300 unemployment benefit and that employee will be making $ 1,108 a week through September 4.
The state confirmed that 764 employers are actively participating in a workshare program, with more than 2,500 participating as of March 2020.
"We believe that expanding the program to include new hires would increase the number of employers participating," said Jason Moon, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
More: Report: Michigan's unemployment insurance lags behind its Midwestern neighbors
Jobs: The U.S. economy created 559,000 jobs in May and unemployment fell to 5.8% as COVID cases declined and more states reopened, the report shows
The move comes as Conservatives and some business owners in Michigan and across the country argue that the government should stop paying people to stay home. They say the $ 300 weekly unemployment benefit allowance makes it easier for people to stay out of work and it makes it harder for companies to return to normal.
"We've all heard the anecdotal talk about people staying unemployed because unemployment benefits are too high ... what we found is that we need to expand our workforce," said Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for Detroit Regional Chamber speaking at the same press conference.
"We're excited to be working with the governor on this plan too, so that we can get people back to work and people reopen their businesses and give their customers the service they need."
More: Do you need a job? Do you have no experience? That's OK! Companies are easing job requirements to address labor shortages
Proponents of the salary argue that the incentives are a little peckish compared to the cost families have to bear during the pandemic. They also suggest that rising unemployment is an indication that workers are returning to companies that offer competitive wages and benefits.
Whitmer's announcement is part of a broader plan to use billions in federal COVID-19 aid dollars. That includes $ 1.4 billion to expand access to affordable childcare. Whitmer, Williams, and others found that helping families find childcare is vital to the overall recovery of the economy.
"Literally everyone is hiring. It's a good time to get a job. Wages are high, they're getting higher. So get out there and get hired," Williams said.
Contact Dave Boucher: dboucher@freepress.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @ Dave_Boucher1.
This article originally appeared in Detroit Free Press: Michigan to use a $ 300 unemployment bonus as an incentive to return to work
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