Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. Hosts Unemployment Town Hall
LANSING, MI - State Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. held an online town hall meeting on Tuesday, April 28th.
The event went from 4:00pm - 5:00pm on Facebook and the main focus of the virtual meeting was unemployment in the state of Michigan due to COVID-19. Senator Hertel greeted everyone who tuned in and was joined by special guests Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) Director Jeff Donofrio, LEO Director of Legislative Affairs Todd Cook, and Unemployment Insurance Agency Director Steve Gray.
Senator Hertel says, “We know we're in unprecedented times and people are facing an uncertainty in almost every part of their life. Unemployment is by far the number one constituent case we get going on in our office right now.”
LEO Director Jeff Donofrio spoke shortly after Senator Hertel and had a presentation on what is going on with UIA, “More than 1.2 million Michigan workers have filed for unemployment since March 15th. Michigan ranks among one of the top states for a number of claims filed and have impacted 26% of the workforce. The highest week during the pandemic was more than 390,000 with the UIA typically processing 5,000 claims a week, with the weekly record being around 77,000 claims back in January 2009 during the great recession.”
People who were tuning in were able to ask questions and the first one was about the UIA call number calling and what to do if both calls are missed. The Director of the Unemployment Insurance Agency, Steve Gray, answered the question and said, “Because of the large volumes of people we have, were making two attempts, and if there isn’t a return from both calls, the person will have to resubmit another request.”
The second question that was submitted asked if a person can’t access their MiWAM account, along with their social security number, date of birth not matching or already associated with another account, what action needs to be taken? Director Gray says, “If you can’t get into your MiWAM account at all, there will be an option that will pop up in the login that allows you to send a message to let us know they can’t get logged in.”
Another question asked was about having to claim an extending pension that has nothing to do with a current job. Director Gray says, “If you start with a pension during that particular week, then you need to report it.” Status indication pending was a question asked by another person who tuned in and Director Gray says, “It’s one of those non monetary cases determinations. There is something in the claims where you have to see whether or not you are eligible for benefits. That’s one of our focuses right now is to review those cases to people who haven’t been paid, and working on the oldest ones to clear those out. Your benefits will be backdated and when we get it cleared and approved, you won’t be missing anything.”
“The system was never built to put this many people through it. I’m frustrated, you’re frustrated, nothing I’m going to say right now is going to make you feel better. One thing I will say is if you look at other states, Florida has put in a third of the people we’ve put through the system and it’s been three weeks and still working on getting the federal benefits through that system. That’s not going to mean a lot to you if you haven’t got yours yet. That’s why we want you to call our office.” said Senator Hertel.
“How do I apply for the pandemic unemployment assistance?” another person who tuned in the live meeting asked Director Gray. “If you applied for regular unemployment benefits, it will give them the option to fill out the application for pandemic unemployment assistance. If you hadn’t applied for unemployment, you go on the same system and it will ask what your social security is and will do a quick check to see if you had enough state wages. If you haven’t, it will take you directly to the pandemic plan.” Director Gray said.
Senator Hertel thanked his guests for being online to show support and concluded the meeting saying, “At the end of the day, governments are supposed to be helpful and no one ever thought this many people would file. If you’re having an issue, again please call our office. We can’t solve every issue and my team has worked diligently to try to understand this system. We have a direct contact in our department to help people get answers. If you don’t live in our district, you can call your senator or representative.”
“If they’re not getting back to you, let me know and I will call their office. Social distancing may not save our lives, but may save someone else’s. One of the most important things is all of us are going to get through to this together.” said Senator Hertel.