Gov. Whitmer expands unemployment to workers who do not already qualify, increase benefits

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced and expansion to unemployment benefits Monday, March 30, 2020, to help those affected by the coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, pandemic after the U.S. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

Whitmer signed an agreement between Michigan and the U.S. Department of Labor to put into place the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Compensation programs, which expand benefits to workers who do not already qualify for state unemployment benefits as stipulated under the federal CARES Act.

“The State of Michigan is dedicated to implementing measures to protect the health of all our residents and we understand financial health is critical as we meet this challenge together,” Whitmer said in a release. “This increase and expansion of unemployment benefits will provide a measure of security for Michigan working families who lost their income due to the pandemic. We are committed to ensuring emergency financial relief for unemployed residents who continue to stay home and stay safe.”

The workers that have been added to unemployment include: self-employed workers, 1099-independent contractors, gig workers, and low-wage workers.

The agreement also increases weekly benefits for all unemployed workers by $600 a week and extends benefit payments from 26 to 39 weeks. The move means even more Michiganders will likely apply for unemployment.

The increase worries Linda and Rock Alexander in Mendon who said they’ve struggled for weeks to file for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m concerned about everybody,” Linda Alexander said.

She said she has spent 37 years working for an auto components manufacturer in Mendon before her employer laid her off weeks ago.

The couple have spent the last couple weeks calling the Michigan unemployment office and trying to apply for benefits online to no avail.

“I try online at night, in the early morning,” Rock Alexander said. “I get the same thing.”

The same thing is the website freezing followed by an error message that prevents them from completing the online application.

He said the process has been frustrating.

“I understand there’s 3 million people trying to get through, I do understand that, but it’s going to come to the time soon that we’re going to need the extra money,” Linda Alexander said.

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity issued the following information Monday:

“The new system uses alphabetical order to manage web visits and calls. It is being implemented as UIA has moved nearly all of its staff members to customer service positions in order to faster assist Michiganders in filing for benefits.

At the same time, the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget is working to expand capacity and infrastructure of the State’s online systems. Potential benefit recipients can help alleviate the system overload by following a few simple steps:

  • If you have a computer and the internet, please use the website, not the phone system, to apply for benefits: Michigan.gov/UIA.
  • Log onto the website during off-hours for better access – late at night or very early in the morning.
  • Please be patient. If the page is loading slowly, DO NOT refresh. Give it a few minutes to load.
  • View the online tool kit and frequently asked questions before you apply to ensure that you have the appropriate information and documents you will need on hand.
  • If you must use the Call Center, please observe the alphabetical system outlined below beginning this Sunday to help ease the burden.

Online Filing Schedule – Michigan.gov/UIA:

  • Last names beginning with letters A-L are asked to file claims on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • Last names beginning with letters M-Z are asked to file claims on Sundays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays.
  • Saturdays will be available for anyone who could not file during their allotted window.

Call Center Filing Schedule – 866-500-0017:

  • Last names beginning with the letters A-L are asked to call on Mondays and Wednesdays between 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Last names beginning with the letters M-Z are asked to call on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Fridays (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.) will be available for anyone who could not file during their allotted window.

When you file will NOT affect whether you are approved for benefits or the amount of payment. You will be compensated from the date you were laid-off or released from your employment. You have 28 days from your last day of work to apply for benefits. UIA understands the urgency that benefit recipients are experiencing, but the fastest way to secure benefits is to follow the UIA guidelines.

The current situation is unprecedented, and UIA is doing everything in its power to ensure that those who are eligible for benefits receive them. Our team is working as quickly as possible to process applications and approve benefits. Your assistance is essential to maximizing our efficiency as we work to help all Michiganders get the financial support they have earned.”