Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chip Chip Chipping Away

The unemployment extension has passed, and future workers will be asked to "sacrifice". And as usual, the word "shared" is nowhere to be found.

Governor Snyder is expected to sign legislation that will extend the lifeline to thousands of unemployed Michigan residents. But, future recipients won’t have as long to find a new job.

Lawmakers cut it close, Wednesday, but were able to extend federal unemployment benefits before the clock ran out on thousands of Michigan’s jobless. However, as part of that extension, state-level benefits starting next year would be limited to 20 weeks instead of 26 weeks. The Michigan Senate approved the plan 24-13, while the House supported it on a 65-44 vote.

Michigan becomes the second state behind Florida to see the GOP majority reduce unemployment benefits. (Edit: Florida's bill hasn't cleared their Senate yet, but chances are it will. And it's a lot nastier than ours. Read here.) 26 weeks has been the standard in the states since WWII. The bill was put on a fast-track through the legislature with no public debate allowed, and, in what is becoming SOP in Lansing, we won't be having any of that "bipartisan" stuff either.

"There is nothing in this legislation that helps Michigan’s business community, but there is plenty in this legislation that would harm Michigan’s unemployed workers," said Sen. John Gleason (D – Flushing) in a press released issued by Senate Democrats. "There would be absolutely no cost to our state to simply implement the temporary federal benefit extension as intended, and yet we’re instead handing a tremendous cost down to our unemployed workers who will be cut off from their benefits earlier."

Sen. Tupac Hunter (D – Detroit) also issued a quote after the vote was passed: "We were told we’d be voting on legislation to do what 30 other states have already done and bring Michigan into line with what the federal government allows to maximize the benefits available to our unemployed workers. Instead we were given legislation that would wind up cutting people off of their benefits sooner than if we did nothing. That’s the ultimate slap in the face to our unemployed workers struggling to make ends meet for their families."

According to the press release, Democrats attempted to amend the legislation to address unemployment fraud committed by businesses, increase child assistance, and provide for the full temporary 20 week extension without the permanent reduction in benefits. Those amendments were all rejected by the Republican majority in the Senate.

No shared sacrifice, no bipartisan cooperation or consideration on legislation. Lansing has become a one-way street that finds government working for the benefit of the privileged few, so feel free to laugh (or cry) whenever someone mentions "shared sacrifice" again.

Since this doesn't take effect until January of 2012, Democrats would be well-advised to remind those workers who are laid-off next year on how their House representative voted on this measure. They should also start making a list of the things we will have to fix when the pendulum swings back and throws the Republicans out of power again - because if this keeps up, that is exactly what is going to happen.