Sept. 10 update: $300 a week unemployment boosts have started to arrive
Michigan residents who already are receiving unemployment benefits should see three weeks of additional $300 payments during the week of Labor Day.
Those payments will be retroactive to people with active claims as of Aug. 1, said Steve Gray, director of Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency, during a hearing on Thursday before state officials.
“Most people won’t have to do anything additional to get the $300,” Gray said during the meeting of the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic.
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The new payments represent the latest in federal lost wage assistance, after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer applied for a portion of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds dedicated to states seeking to augment unemployment benefits. That follows an additional $600 per week of federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments that expired at the end of July.
The maximum unemployment benefit in Michigan is $362 per week. Someone receiving that would receive $662 per week with the new benefit.
Those additional benefits should last up to five weeks, Gray said, due to limitations in the program. Unclear so far is whether more supplemental benefits — credited with boosting consumer spending over the summer — will be approved.
“There’s a limited pot of money nationwide,” Gray said.
The extra funds will reach unemployed workers as the state continues to work through an unemployment system clogged by unprecedented numbers of claims amid the pandemic. Through Sept. 2, it’s paid $21.9 billion in benefits to jobless workers.
According to the state, from March 15 to Wednesday:
- 2,599,075 claims were received, both under existing state guidelines and new federal rules that allow part-time and gig workers to apply.
- 201,601 were ruled ineligible.
- 186,883 have not certified
- That leaves more than 2.2 million unique potentially eligible claims.
Of the claims, the state says, 98.1 percent were paid at least once. And 42,000 claims remain unpaid while verification continues.
Meanwhile, federal unemployment filing data released Thursday morning shows that 15,108 new claims were filed in Michigan for the week ended Aug. 29. That follows 19,997 claims that were filed the previous week.
Nationally, 881,000 new claims were filed and 29 million people were collecting jobless benefits as of mid-August.
Michigan’s unemployment insurance agency is working on closing the gap for people who have not received payments and who are waiting for review of their cases, Gray said.
By the end of summer, the department was seeing about 2,100 new cases daily, while about 9,800 went through adjudication.
Phone calls into the system remain a problem, with about 63 percent of calls answered last week, he said.
“That’s not good enough, but a marked improvement,” he said.
Combatting some of that will be changes to the system, including updates to a clunky certification process. One possibility is allowing claimants to change an answer without calling and speaking to someone.
“There’s no reason certification can't feel more like TurboTax,” Gray said.
Meanwhile, Gray said, fraud investigations continue. A forensic audit team is reviewing cases, and three people — including two former Unemployment Insurance Agency workers — are facing federal prosecution for a combined $3 million in fraudulent claims.
In June, up to 400,000 cases were flagged as potentially fraudulent in Michigan, while other states confronted similar numbers.
The U.S. Secret Service issued a national alert in May warning about unemployment fraud by an international crime ring, and the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that more than $26 billion may be paid in fraudulent unemployment benefits.