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Because of coronavirus, Whitmer expands unemployment benefits for Michigan workers

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Workers are worried about how to pay their bills in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help them, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order order Monday that expands eligibility for unemployment benefits starting immediately through Tuesday, April 14. 

Stateside spoke with Luke Shaefer, professor of social work and public policy at the University of Michigan, about how the spike in joblessness may strain the state’s social safety net. Listen above. 

Whitmer said the goal is to provide immediate relief to those who can't go to work because of the coronavirus crisis.

The order expands unemployment benefits to cover:

  • Workers who have unanticipated family care responsiblities. That includes people who have to take care of kids because of school closures or loved ones who become ill.
  • Workers who are sick, quarantined, or immuno-compromised and who don't have access to paid and medical family leave or are laid off.
  • First responders in the public health community who get sick or are quarantined because of exposure to COVID-19.

Whitmer said she is also trying to get help for self-employed workers and independent contractors who traditionally do not have access to unemployment insurance.
According to Whitmer's office, access to benefits for unemployed workers will also be extended so that:

  • Benefits are increased from 20 to 26 weeks.
  • The application eligibility period is increased from 14 to 28 days.
  • The regular in person registration and work search requirements are suspended.

If you are eligibile, you can apply online (Michigan.gov/UIA) or by phone (1-866-500-0017).  

The Unemployment Insurance Agency says it will be faster to apply online. As of Tuesday afternoon, the agency apologizes for slowness due to the high volume of users and says its IT team is working to address the problem.

Although six Oakland County Michigan Works! offices are open, Oakland County Executive David Coulter has asked affected workers to file their unemployment claims on line or by phone to slow possible virus exposure to the public or staff.

A fact sheet about how to appy for unemployment benefits can be found here.

You can find additional information on claiming unemployment benefits in Michigan here.

An employer may not be charged for unemployment benefits if their workers lose their jobs because of an executive order that requires them to close or limit their operations. 

Whitmer has ordered the temporary closing of all bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and gyms.

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.