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Nearly 12,000 Michigan workers unemployed since May 1 still await benefits

LANSING — Nearly 12,000 Michigan workers who filed for jobless benefits between March 15 and May 1 have yet to be paid or denied, but the state unemployment agency said Tuesday it intends to clear that backlog by July 4.

Those 11,824 claims, which have already taken seven weeks or more to process, represent almost 10 percent of the 123,959 applicants currently awaiting eligibility determinations from the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.

“Our goal is to have every unemployment claim filed before May 1st resolved by the end of next week,” UIA Director Steve Gray said in a statement. “While most of our eligible workers have been paid, the unprecedented number of claims during this crisis means that there are still tens of thousands of real Michiganders needing one-on-one review to pay benefits." 

The unemployment agency says Michigan has paid out $14.3 billion in jobless benefits to more than 2.1 million claimants since mid-March, when a global pandemic and government lockdown forced business closures and rocked the economy.

The process has not been easy for many jobless Michiganders, who have struggled to navigate online and call center systems that have been overwhelmed by record claim volumes.

Others who successfully applied have had their accounts suspended amid an ongoing investigation into a global fraud ring after scammers targeted Michigan and other states offering enhanced federal benefits during the public health crisis. 

Overall, 123,959 Michigan claimants have never been paid. Of those, 90,474 have not yet provided extra identity verification requested by the state because of the fraud probe. Another 33,485 have not been paid due to "other non-monetary issues," according to agency figures. 

Most of the oldest unresolved claims – the 11,824 filed before May 1 – are not related to the fraud probe, said UIA spokesman Jason Moon. 

For those claims, the agency plans to either pay out benefits by July 4, explain ineligibility to the applicant or deem them unreachable because multiple attempts to reach them have failed. 

As of Tuesday about 120,000 people with active accounts – meaning the state had paid them benefits at some point – still needed to go through an enhanced identity verification to unlock accounts frozen as part of the fraud probe. 

The state has so far "cleared" roughly 220,000 active accounts, Moon said. 

The agency has also cleared about 110,000 new claimants, leaving the 90,474 who have not yet been paid but may qualify if they are able to prove their identity, he said. 

The state released the new claims data one day before Gray, an attorney who took over the unemployment agency in June 2019, is set to testify before the  Michigan Legislature's Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic.

State Rep. Matt Hall, who chairs the panel, last week accused the unemployment agency of providing inconsistent data to lawmakers. The Marshall Republican did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon. 

Gray also testified before the committee on May 13, but legislators are calling him back as they urge the state to reopen unemployment offices for residents that continue to struggle with online and phone systems. 

The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency closed office lobbies on March 18, two days after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order expanding eligibility and access to jobless benefits. 

The federal government increased unemployment benefits in late March, providing workers who lost jobs with $600 a week in extra pandemic unemployment assistance through July 25.

“We know COVID-19 continues to cause fear and frustration for these families and we are working around the clock [to] enhance our resources to quickly eliminate the remaining backlog and get every worker the emergency financial assistance they’re entitled to,” Gray said Tuesday. 

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