Michigan's unemployment claims surge dramatically due to COVID-19
Update: 5:46 p.m. Jeff Donofrio, Michigan's Director of Labor and Economic Opportunity, says 55,000 people filed claims in the past three days - a 1,500% increase over the last week.
Donofrio was on All Things Considered. He said most of the claims were from people in service industry jobs, including restaurants, but he expected claims would soon be made by people who work in all sectors of the economy as the coronavirus crisis worsens.
Donofrio acknowledged many people have had problems making a claim either by phone or online.
"We know that it's taxing some of our systems," he said. "We've added capacity from a staff level. Just a few months ago we upgraded our IT and call system, which has really helped a lot. And where other states have had trouble even websites crashing, so far we haven't had a problem with it here."
The state's Unemployment Insurance Agency is experiencing a spike in claims that is more than 550% above average for this time of year. That's according to Jason Moon, communications director for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
This comes as more people are losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moon said more accurate numbers will be released sometime in the next week.
The state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency wants workers to apply for unemployment insurance online or by phone. The agency has strongly urged them to avoid visiting UIA or Michigan Works! offices around the state, as those lobbies have been closed to visits from the public except for customers with appointments.
"Michigan is doing all it can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We are asking residents to protect their health by not going into group settings unless necessary," said UIA director Steve Gray in a written statement. "Limiting public visits to our UIA lobbies and eliminating in-person registration and work search requirements are critical steps in this emergency. The fastest and best method for unemployment resources can be found on line at Michigan.gov/UIA. Residents can also connect with our agency by calling 1-866-500-0017."
"Because of the high volume of users at this time, customers may experience slow response and loading times when using the MiWAM (online) system," Erica Quealy, a LEO spokesperson, said in a written statement. "Our IT team is working diligently to monitor the system and ensure it is performing as efficiently as possible."
Earlier this week, Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered the expansion of unemployment benefits to cover workers who cannot go to work because of illness or family care responsibilities arising out of the COVID-19 crisis.