After crush of unemployment claims, state says it’s upgraded servers

Unemployment Insurance Agency, Lansing | Susan J. Demas

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) website saw higher traffic Monday night than any other time in the last few weeks, according to Director Jeff Donofrio.

Donofrio gave a video press update Tuesday on how the department is dealing with the historic number of unemployment claims after a slew of complaints from people who were unable to file online or have been denied benefits.

He addressed the fact that many Michiganders have been struggling for days or even weeks to file for unemployment after losing their job during the COVID-19 outbreak, mostly due to the state server having a hard time keeping up with the influx of applicants.

“We understand how frustrating delays can be during this time. … We won’t rest until everyone is helped,” Donofrio said.

‘If and when can we go back to work’: Laid-off workers worry what happens after COVID-19 crisis

More than 1 million people in Michigan — almost one-quarter of the state’s workforce — have filed for unemployment benefits so far, according to LEO. Donofrio said that only California and Pennsylvania have higher numbers of unemployment claims than Michigan.

To deal with the huge increase of unemployment claims over the last month, Donofrio said LEO “greatly expanded” its web servers recently. It is also adding “hundreds of staff,” a dedicated IT help team and the supplemental help of third-party call centers to help deal with the increase.

“Most of those eligible have been able to file, and so far the state of Michigan has paid out $350 million to more than 600,000 Michiganders,” Donofrio said. 

He added that LEO expects that number to continue to grow in coming weeks, and that about 70% of those who have filed so far have been approved.

For those who have been denied, including gig workers and others not traditionally eligible for benefits, Donofrio said most will now be eligible for the recently implemented federal CARES Act.

Self-employed, gig workers can claim unemployment benefits 

“As of last Wednesday, we were one of the first and few states to begin sending out the additional $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits. That’s on top of the up to $362 provided by the state of Michigan,” Donofrio said.

Those payments will last until the end of July.

The LEO director gave reassurance that unemployment claims are backdated to the date that a worker was laid off, meaning that workers will receive the full benefits they are owed, regardless of how much time has passed before they receive them.

Individuals were also reminded to file on the day corresponding with their last name to expedite the process. Workers whose last names begin with A-L should file on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; last names M-Z should file Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. If an individual misses their day, they can file on Saturday.

Michigan unemployment could hit 23% and other alarming economic forecasts

Donofrio also encouraged Michiganders to file for their claim after 8 p.m. on any given day, as this will lessen the peak of claims during the daytime.

He said that the website woes are not isolated to LEO, as other state government websites, including the Secretary of State’s office and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also have been affected. 

But since the LEO server has added additional capacity, he said things seem to be working better.

“But this still isn’t good enough,” Donofrio said. “We have to do better to ensure that everyone gets the help they need. We continue to ask for your patience as we work to process your claims.”