Record 311,000 file initial unemployment claims in Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Claims for unemployment benefits continued to skyrocket in Michigan last week during the coronavirus pandemic, when 311,000 people filed initial applications — more than double from the previous week.

The number of applications shattered the previous high of 128,000, which was set the prior week. The weekly record for new claims had been 77,000 in January 2009, during the Great Recession, which hit the state especially hard.

“Our system has been able to stand up to the increased demand, but it does need additional support. We are working on that. In the interim, what we have done is release and loosen some of the previously required actions on the behalf of applicants. So, it used to be that you would have to get certain documentation from your former employer to even by eligible,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a COVID-19 news briefing Thursday.

The unemployment system has been deluged. The website went down Tuesday before being restored.

“My encouragement for folks is to keep attempting to get that application in. But note that we understand the incredible strain on the system, the incredible number of people who are impacted. We are going to make sure that people get the unemployment that they need to get through this crisis,” Whitmer said Thursday.

The state Unemployment Insurance Agency has implemented a schedule for people to apply based on their last name. It is urging patience, recommending that users apply online late at night or early in the morning. The state also is scrambling to expand the capacity of its online system.

“The system’s overwhelmed to be sure,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said earlier this week. “While it is cumbersome, we’re asking for people to be patient. We are working incredibly hard to make sure that we’re able to meet the need.”