State Updates Unemployment System, Claimants Frustrated

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The Unemployment Insurance Agency is getting mixed reviews on the newest edition of the software the unemployed use to make their claims.

The Michigan Automated Response Interactive Network -- or MARVIN for short -- got a fresh coat of paint in time for October 1. Its colleagues MiWAM -- which runs the agency's website -- and MIDAS -- the software behind the two -- got upgrades too. It's a move the state hopes will ease the pain of taking a number at the unemployment office.

"It allows a greater freedom for the claimants themselves," said Clayton Tierney, director of the Office of Technology and Modernization. "There's self-service they're able to do both online and over the telephone, unlike the old days when they had to show up in our office every two weeks."

The unemployed can now use a telephone or a computer to do almost anything they can do by showing up to the office, including filing claims, changing their contact information and changing their payment method.

Tierney says it's a system that will speed up the unemployment process and add flexibility for claimants.

"In these days of shrinking resources, everyone wants to be able to get their services as close to 24 hours a day as possible and this new system allows us to do that," he said. "If they've been out searching all day for work and they come back late, they can still get to us at nine, ten o'clock at night, which they couldn't do before."

Employers can also use the system to file their quarterly reports.

The unemployment office says the transition was a positive and efficient one.

"Folks came in on Tuesday and they were very patient with us while we were working through the new system," said Darla Harper, an office manager. "We really didn't have too many issues we couldn't resolve right away."

The people using the system though say they've struggled mightily with the new system and that it's causing long backups at the unemployment office.

"Since the new system's been out it's been a living hell," said Jim Symons, who is unemployed. "You can't get in, you can't get out, you can't be seen. They don't have enough people at the desk."

Many others agreed with Symons's assessment.

"It's been a real headache, and more trouble than it's worth really," said Jamal Ardister, who is also unemployed. "The fact that it just came out, I think they're still working through the bugs. But as of right now, 90 percent of the people that are in the office right now are there I'm pretty sure for [problems with MARVIN]."

Director of Technology Clayton Tierney acknowledges there have been glitches, but he says it hasn't stopped the agency from serving its primary purpose.

"We've been able to stay up, folks have been able to contact us both by the telephone and online." he said. "Making payments to claimants was kind of our front-most facing issue, and that's what we were able to do right from the get go and we haven't had any hiccup with those services."

Lynda Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, says many of the complaints are due to high traffic and a rush to the office after the upgrade, which closed the office for three business days at the end of September.

In the week after the system was upgraded, customers in Unemployment Problem Resolution Offices around the state more than doubled from the week before the upgrade, Robinson said.

She also said MARVIN is generally more heavily used on Mondays, gradually decreasing until the end of the week.

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