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Record 311,000 Michiganders file unemployment claims last week, but eligibility nuances unclear

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steve carmody
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Michigan Radio
Unemployment insurance benefits rose $600 weekly since the CARES Act, though some eligbility rules are still unclear

The number of people applying for unemployment insurance in Michigan continues to soar.

More than 311,000 Michiganders filed initial claims for unemployment insurance during the week ending on March 28th, an increase of more than 183,000 from the week before.

“We have had unprecedented demand for unemployment insurance benefits and we know people are suffering out there in very high numbers,” said Jeff Donofrio, Director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic opportunity during a tele-town hall with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell Wednesday evening.

“We have set records that have gone even beyond the number of people who applied in one week during the great recession," Donofrio said.

State unemployment officials are double-checking the applications of people who were recently denied unemployment insurance but may now be eligible since the recent expansion of unemployment eligibility and benefits due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Michigan department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) says it’s waiting for the U.S. Department of Labor to finalize various nuances of the new eligibility rules and benefits.

But Michiganders who’ve recently been denied for unemployment insurance do not need to re-apply to be considered for the newly offered benefits.

“We’re going to reevaluate all of the denied applications when we get the rules from the Department of Labor,” said Donofrio. “(We’ll) make sure to contact you and tell you how to get your benefits.”

Donofrio says unemployment insurance eligibility now lasts for 39 weeks, and unemployment insurance benefit payments have increased $600 weekly for all people on unemployment insurance due to the passage of the CARES Act. The new benefits will automatically be disbursed to unemployment insurance recipients. There’s no need to re-apply.

Donofrio says some people directly impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic are newly eligible for unemployment insurance.

“For those (workers) who don’t have sick time but are employed and are sick, they’re immunocompromised, they’re quarantined, the might be taking care of a loved-one who’s sick; you’re eligible for unemployment insurance now,” said Donofrio.

The state is asking some categories of newly-eligible people: the self-employed, gig workers, and independent contractors to wait to apply for unemployment for now. There are various aspects of the new eligibility rules state officials are waiting on the U.S. Department of labor to clarify, including when self-employed and similar workers should file.

It’s also unknown what evidence or proof may be required for unemployment insurance applicants to be considered having left work involuntarily due to medical reasons, and who are therefore eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

With the maximum weekly unemployment insurance benefit now upwards of $900, it’s possible some workers could make more money on unemployment that on their current jobs. It’s not clear if workers who stop working out of fear of exposure to the Coronavirus would be immediately eligible for unemployment insurance in Michigan.

A spokesperson for LEO says the department is waiting “waiting on USDOL to finalize rules on eligibility under the CARES Act, and would be able to provide more information once that happens.

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