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Whitmer signs bills extending unemployment insurance benefits to 26 weeks

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LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bills Tuesday extending eligibility for unemployment insurance to 26 weeks, up from 20 weeks.

The bills, recently passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, codified executive orders the governor had issued to address the coronavirus pandemic. The orders were nullified by an Oct. 2 Michigan Supreme Court ruling that said the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945 — the legal underpinning for Michigan's state of emergency and many of Whitmer's coronavirus orders — was unconstitutional.

The bills, sponsored by Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, extend the 26-week eligibility for jobless benefits through the end of the year.

Whitmer, a Democrat, called on lawmakers to make the change permanent.

“No Michigander should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a global pandemic,” Whitmer said in a news release.

“These bipartisan bills are an important step in providing immediate relief for working families, but given the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Michigan, I urge the Legislature to take further action to make this permanent."

Whitmer said 40 states, including all of Michigan's neighboring states, automatically provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment relief.

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Chamber, said the bill provides certainty for workers and employers.

Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, said the legislation patches "some of the holes in our state's safety net that were ripped open weeks ago by a narrow Supreme Court decision."

The virus "isn't going to disappear just because we are tired of it, and it certainly won't be doing so on or around Dec. 31," Bieber said.

Whitmer has used the Michigan Public Health Code to issue new statewide orders related to face mask requirements, capacity restrictions at restaurants and other businesses, and limits on the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings.

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