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Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency working through backlog of claims

The agency’s director addressed the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic for the third time Thursday.
Michigan unemployment offices are still closed
Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 5:42 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) -The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency continues to make progress on its backlog of people who haven’t been paid their benefits. There were 200,000 “non-monetary” issues in the system Thursday.

The agency’s director, Steve Gray, addressed the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic for the third time on Thursday.

“We’ll do it and we’ll do it as quickly as we can,” said Unemployment Insurance Agency director Steve Gray.

Gray said as of Wednesday, 98% of people who are eligible for unemployment were paid at least once during the pandemic. Michigan’s unemployment rate skyrocketed in March during the stay home order, with a record two million people filing claims.

“The majority of our focus is on claimants who have been previously paid but who have weeks held,” said Gray.

That’s where the 200,000 “non monetary” issues are. Gray said most issues happen when someone goes to do their weekly certification

“A lot of these questions, some of them are not written in the best way, they don’t understand them and they answer them when they really meant something different,” he said.

Gray said he’s working to make the certification process as easy as tax prep software. That includes rewording questions and allowing some answers to be changed, but he said there are issues with that.

“There are concerns that come from our financial side about the ability for someone to go back in and change a certification,” said Gray.

In the meantime, there are 42,000 people who filed claims and are still waiting to be paid. Gray said most of those are likely fake claims, but 14,000 of those claims needs someone to physically look things over.

“It’s contributing to our backlog,” he said.

Gray also told lawmakers the call center is improving. He said about 60% of calls to the unemployment hotline are being answered. However, the goal is to reach 100%.

He said because there are still too many calls, the 13 regional UIA offices will remain closed because it is more efficient to handle them on the phones. The agency recently started an appointment system where agents would call someone with an appointment. Gray said that’s helped 2,000 people so far.

Gray told lawmakers these changes will help the unemployment agency if the states moves back to Phase 3 in the reopening plan.

“Probably three or four years worth of changes to the system to improve it; to make it able to handle this high volume over the course of five months,” said Gray.

Michigan’s Unemployment Trust Fund currently has $1.5 billion dollars. Gray said Michigan will likely have to borrow money from the federal government by the end of the year, but it will be one of the last states to do so. Michigan’s loan would be interest free.

Legislatures approved accepting assistance from FEMA this week. Gray said that will provide about three weeks worth of an extra $300 per week to people already getting claims effective August 1.

This replaces the $600 a week people were getting from the federal CARES act.

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