GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — This week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced an expansion of Michigan’s unemployment benefits. The goal is to help aid workers struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, as more people logged online and applied, the system became overloaded.
“Every time I tried to go through it last night, it kept telling me the system was overloaded. It wasn’t working—something was going on. It’s frustrating for people like myself," said contractor David Stiles.
Stiles said he works odd jobs and is struggling to find work as a contractor during this time as people are under self-isolation recommendations. He’s glad the governor expanded unemployment, and while he's frustrated with the system, he understands the reason for the delay.
“It’s irritating, but I try to understand the system can only handle so much. So it’s going to happen. With any crisis there will be overloading of systems. People do need to understand and work with it," he said.
During this time, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity is encouraging people to apply online, through their website.
Further instructions can be found on this fact sheet.
“We’re telling people to bear with us and be patient,” said the department’s director, Jeff Donofrio. “There are enough funds to go around. We have a $4.6 billion trust fund we’ve been building up for the last 10 years. While it may take a little more time to file that initial claim, we’ll get you that emergency relief as quickly as we can.”
Donofrio said the situation right now is unprecedented. The request to file online or through the phone, rather than in person, helps promote social distancing for their workers. The department has added extra personnel to its call centers, to help the influx of applications through the phone and online.
“We’re even bringing back retirees to make sure we have the right volume of people to handle it, and we can make sure our process is smooth," said Donofrio.
Tammy Large tried to call about her unemployment through the phone, but said she never got through. She drove 50 minutes to the Grand Rapids office to get some answers.
“You know, I get it, everybody is worried," said Large. "You can’t blame the unemployment office, you can’t blame the government, you can’t blame anybody really, I don’t.”
Others are still trying to figure out what to do. Kristen Kelly is a server, who said she’s nervous about what the future holds for her profession. She tried multiple times to apply online last night and this morning. So far, she hasn’t had any luck.
“It makes it so I will be able to pay some of my bills since I won’t be working,” said Kelly. “So, it’s nice, otherwise I’m not sure what I’d do. I don’t have a fallback on money right now.”
She also said she can be patient, as the state tries to figure out this unprecedented situation.
“I just don’t even know if there’s anything they could have done to help with that,” said Kelly. “With so many people trying to get on the same website, do the same things, buy the same things, everything all at once, I don’t even know if they could have made it to go smoothly.”
Under the governor’s order, unemployment benefits would be extended to:
- Workers who have an unanticipated family care responsibility, including those who have childcare responsibilities due to school closures, or those who are forced to care for loved ones who become ill.
- Workers who are sick, quarantined, or immunocompromised and who do not have access to paid family and medical leave or are laid off.
- First responders in the public health community who become ill or are quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19.
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