LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday called on state lawmakers to extend state unemployment insurance benefits that were previously expanded but are scheduled to sunset at the end of the year.
Nearly 3 million Michigan workers have applied for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began, with more than 600,000 still receiving benefits, Whitmer said. The need will only grow as COVID-19 infection rates increase in every region of the state.
“This should be one of the first orders of business when the Legislature is done with their hunting break,” Whitmer said. “We all know the pandemic will not be over by the end of this year.”
Last month Whitmer signed bipartisan legislation that codified a previous executive order expanding the length of unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks through the end of the year. Whitmer also previously called for legislation aimed at speeding up claim processing by the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency.
Whitmer added today that “federal support was essential to the action we took to fight the pandemic this spring and helped us stabilize our economy.”
Since March 15, $25 billion in benefits have been paid out to 2.2 million workers in Michigan. Research on a COVID-19 vaccine has been promising, but it will still be at least several months before it is available for widespread distribution, Whitmer said.
On average Michigan hospitals are 79 percent full, increasingly because of COVID-19 patients, said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. Michigan has the fourth highest number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the country, Khaldun said. As of Thursday, Michigan had reported 285,398 COVID-19 cases.
“I’m very concerned about our numbers,” Khaldun said. “Stay focused on what you can control.”
Khaldun and Whitmer urged Michigan residents to make smart choices this Thanksgiving, and find other ways to celebrate virtually for the holiday.
The administration announced new three-week restrictions for restaurants, high schools, colleges and some entertainment venues that went into effect Wednesday. On Thursday Whitmer said the restrictions are “targeted and intended to be temporary.”
“Doing this will also protect medical workers, first responders and other essential workers that have put their lives on the line to protect us,” Whitmer said. “We have to respect the people that have been on the front line because they are what’s keeping us safe. We must all work together here.”