Thousands struggling to file for unemployment

Posted at 9:30 PM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-19 18:07:27-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As thousands of people attempt to file for unemployment benefits many say they aren't having any success. In fact, after dozens of failed calls to unemployment and getting nowhere online people are contacting FOX 17.

Wendy Collins is among the millions of Michigan residents staying home to stay safe amid the COVID-19 outbreak. She is also among tens of thousands of people suddenly unemployed because of Governor Whitmer's shelter-in-place order.

"I don't think my situation is anymore severe or anymore worse off than anybody else's. We're obviously all in this together. But in a time of uncertainty you're looking for answers and it seems like everything's so unclear," Collins said.

She says she's concerned about caring for her kids in the long-term.

"I just went through this two years ago when I was fighting cancer. Ya know, like what's going to happen to them? Finally, you start to feel a little bit of relief from that," she said.

Relief for this crisis is supposed to come from the state unemployment office. But like other people across the state, she says she's had trouble filing a claim. To start, the offices are closed indefinitely. So everything is to be done online or by phone.

Collins said, "Either it says right away that there's too many people and it hangs up on you, or it lets you go through all the prompts and then once you get to the end of the prompt it'll say the system full and then hangs up on you."

"There's a whole bunch of flaws in the system, but it's probably not really the system's fault. It's just on overload," she said.

"I tried (online), but it immediately came up 'your MiWAM account is locked. Please call' and then it gave me, again, the customer service number," Collins explained.

She shared screenshot of her phone's screen which displayed a four hour wait on one of the dozens of calls that did not disconnect.

"It's scary. It's really scary for me as to what's going to happen next. It's almost bone chilling," Collins said.

Wednesday morning, after a week of persistence, Collins says she managed to get through to a real person to proceed with filing her claim.

But emails, phone calls, and Facebook messages into the FOX 17 newsroom show countless people have been struggling for at least two weeks as they try to beat the previously mandated 28-day deadline to file and at least get through to someone to be heard.

"Thank you so much," Collins said to FOX 17.

"You really don't know how much it means that somebody actually took the time to care, to listen to me. Like, to me acknowledging that there's a problem and that there's hundreds of people, thousands of people feeling the same exact way, it really does mean the world to me," she said.

FOX 17 reached out to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity about the online and phone issues people are facing.

Spokesperson Erica Quealy told FOX 17 via email: “We appreciate the patience Michigan residents have shown with the unemployment system over the last few weeks as we continue to provide emergency financial assistance during this historical demand.

In addition to trying to file online during off-peak hours (after 8 pm and before 8 am), we’ve implemented an alphabetical filing system to better manage the number of people trying to apply at a time." (People with last names beginning with A through L file on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. M through Z should file on Tuesdays and Thursdays.)

"Filing online at remains the preferred and quickest method for filing a claim.

We want to assure every eligible worker in Michigan who needs to apply for unemployment benefits that they will receive them. And the day or time of day in which a claim is filed will not impact whether a worker receives benefits or their benefit amount. Claims will be back-dated to reflect the date in which a claimant was laid-off or let go from their job due to COVID-19."