Loss of benefits could have a ‘ripple effect’

Published 7:59 pm Thursday, December 2, 2010

Without an extension of federal unemployment benefits, beginning this week, 1,100 unemployed people in Michigan a day will stop getting unemployment checks, according to a report by the Michigan League for Human Services (MLHS).

Unemployment benefits expired Wednesday, and without an extension, MLHS estimates 168,520 people in Michigan will lose their benefits by April. That number does not include the “99ers” — those who have already exhausted all of the benefits available to them.

According to the MLHS report, an estimated 2,172 people in Berrien County and 1,298 in Cass County would lose their benefits between December and April.

The most recent vote to extend benefits took place Nov. 18. The measure did not pass the house with 154 representatives voting no, including local Representative Fred Upton, R-Mich.

Upton has voted yes for previous extensions and as recently as his campaign for re-election expressed his support for them.

In an interview with Leader in October, Upton said he supported extending unemployment benefits and the Bush tax cuts.

He joined fellow Michigan Republicans Dave Camp of Midland, Pete Hoekstra of Holland, Candice Miller of Harrison Township and Mike Rogers of Brighton in voting no this month.

Upton could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

“The thing that is surprising is that the entire (Michigan) congressional delegation hasn’t supported it,” said Judy Putnam, communication director for the Michigan League of Human Services. “Michigan has had one of the highest unemployment rates for the past four years. Nowhere do we need them more than in Michigan.”

In Michigan alone, 423,400 jobs have been lost since December 2007, while unemployment remains near the top of the rankings in the country at 12.8 percent in October.

Compounding the potential problem, Michigan’s public safety net is ill-prepared to help.

“We’ve been looking at whether our state is ready to absorb more families into the safety net. We simply have no extra money for the Family Independence Program,” Putnam said.

If more families begin to qualify for the Family Independence Program after losing their benefits, “the state will have to come up with more funds or reduce eligibility,” according to Putnam.

Lawmakers budgeted for 82,000 public assistance cases on average for the 2011 fiscal year. In October, the first month of the fiscal year, there were 82,560 cases, according to MLHS.

The loss of unemployment benefits doesn’t just affect the families who lose them, according to Putnam.

“We’re talking about a lot of families depending on this support, and that means they don’t have the dollars to spend in the local economy,” she said. “There is a tremendous ripple effect.”