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Published in Economic Development

Whitmer expands state unemployment benefits to self-employed, low-wage workers

BY Monday, March 30, 2020 09:36am

Following the passage Friday of the federal CARES Act stimulus package, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced today she is expanding access to state unemployment benefits for people who typically don’t qualify, including self-employed and low-wage workers.

The agreement between the state and U.S. Department of Labor offers Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Compensation programs to the self-employed, independent contractors, “gig economy” workers and low-wage earners who are out of work due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer COURTESY PHOTO

“This increase and expansion of unemployment benefits will provide a measure of security for Michigan working families who lost their income due to the pandemic,” Whitmer said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring emergency financial relief for unemployed residents who continue to stay home and stay safe.”

The CARES Act, approved by Congress and quickly signed into law by President Trump on Friday, boosts weekly unemployment payments by $600 a week on top of state benefits. Michigan unemployment benefits are capped at $362 a week. 

Protections for workers finding themselves unemployed in light of widespread closures to stop the spread of the coronavirus are part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package, which also includes roughly $1 trillion in financial support for large and small businesses.

The additional $600 a week is available for up to four months. People already in Michigan’s unemployment system do not need to reapply. Workers whose application has previously been denied by the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency also do not need to reapply, state officials say.

“We appreciate the patience Michigan residents have shown with the unemployment system over the last few weeks as we continue to provide emergency financial assistance during this historical demand,” Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio said in a statement. “I want to assure every eligible worker in our state who needs to apply for unemployment benefits that they will receive them.”

State officials are encouraging workers to apply online and use a new filing schedule based on their last name. Claims will also be back-dated to reflect the time of the layoff, state officials say. The eligibility window to apply was increased from 14 to 28 days under a previous order from Whitmer, which also does not increase costs for employers who issue layoffs.

State officials also released a new filing schedule for people to apply for unemployment online or by phone to help reduce delays. Online filers are encouraged to do so during off-peak times from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.:

  • Last names beginning with letters A-L are asked to file claims on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays.
  • Last names beginning with letters M-Z are asked to file claims on Sundays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays.
  • Saturdays will be available for anyone to accommodate those who could not file during their allotted window.

The call-in center (866-500-0017) schedule is:

  • Last names beginning with letters A-L are asked to call on Mondays and Wednesdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  • Last names beginning with letters M-Z are asked to call on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  • Fridays (8 a.m. and 5 p.m.) will be available for anyone to accommodate people who could not file during their allotted window. 
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