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Michigan jobless claims top 1.1 million as state streamlines approvals

unemployment line

Michigan took steps to streamline its unemployment claim process this week, hours before the state released new data on jobless claims.

New claims filed for the week ended May 2 totaled 68,952 in Michigan. That number is a decrease of 13,052  from the previous week, which was adjusted to 82,004. Fewer new filings last week is due in part to slower manufacturing layoffs, the state told federal officials.

With the most recent numbers, a total of more than 1.3 million Michigan residents have filed for jobless claims since mid-March — meaning job disruptions for more than 26 percent of the state’s workers.

 

Counties with the highest unemployment percentage increases since February 22 are: Ottawa (1,634%), Kent (1,489%), Macomb (1,428%) and Washtenaw (1,426%).

Nationally, jobless claims increased by 3.2 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The new seasonally adjusted numbers mean that more than 25.8 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits.

According to the state, $4.13 billion in unemployment benefits has been sent to Michigan workers, and Michigan is among the few states already distributing the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit. But as the wave of filings reach the state Unemployment Insurance Agency, complaints about the process —  including time delays on benefit approvals —  persist.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took some steps to streamline processes for laid-off workers who haven’t been able to get through the system. She signed a new executive order this week, which should expedite the review process, according to the state.

“Nobody should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a crisis. Michiganders everywhere have lost work because of COVID-19, and we must ensure they receive the benefits they’re entitled to as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Whitmer said in a news release. “This Executive Order will take us one step closer toward that goal by temporarily eliminating red tape as we continue to flatten the curve of this deadly disease.” 

Part of the executive action allows the state to review only an individual’s most recent job separation — which is the cause of the current unemployment —   to determine the individual's benefit entitlement. 

That’s been an issue for many of the 200 people per day who have been calling the Workers’ Rights Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, said Rachael Kohl.

 

The state’s computer system will flag people who show a previous job separation, Kohl said, prompting a staff review. That can delay the timing of payments, even when an applicant fits all of the new criteria for jobless benefits enacted during the COVID-19 crisis.

“If you have any separation from any other job in … the last 18 months before you filed, you are possibly disqualified, even though that’s not the reason you’re filing for benefits,” Kohl said.

People who have been denied benefits should appeal, Kohl said. That allows explanation of circumstances and also opens opportunity for additional in-person review amid the expanded qualifications.

Among other provisions of Whitmer’s executive order, it extends unemployment benefits to workers: 

  • Who have an unanticipated family care responsibility. 
  • Who are sick, quarantined or immunocompromised and who do not have access to paid family and medical leave or are laid off. 
  • Who voluntarily left a job after accepting new employment but were unable to start a new position because of the pandemic. 
  • With an active unemployment claim. They can receive up to 26 weeks of benefits. 
  • Seeking unemployment to request a registration and work search waiver from their employer. 

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