We get it, the economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented.
More than 1.7 million Michiganders have filed for unemployment, a tsunami of claims that peaked at more than 390,000 in a single week. The surge wildly eclipsed the previous high mark for filings set at 77,000 during the Great Recession.
We also understand the pleas for patience from officials with Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency as they wrestle with a system that, even in the best of circumstances, could be considered dismal. (Let’s not forget the state continues to fight a class-action lawsuit brought by people who were illegitimately accused of unemployment fraud during the past decade by the agency’s computer system run amok.)
The massive wave of need flooding into Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency since mid-March has been overwhelming.
And since then, the agency’s overseers have worked around the clock to try to shore up a system that clearly wasn’t up to the task it faced.
But excuses levied by agency officials ring hollow to us. Or at least they carry far less weight than the pleas of our neighbors and friends who spent sleepless nights stymied by a woefully inadequate safety net. They are people who now have missed two monthly rent or mortgage payments, and aren’t sure if they’ll have money to pay the next. They are people who some weeks ago, probably about the time they no longer could afford groceries, ran out of patience for bureaucratic excuses.
The agency now boasts that 92 percent of people who have filed for unemployment have now either been paid, or soon will be paid. That’s certainly progress considering we’re now 10 weeks down the road from the first filings. But please note, according to the agency’s own numbers, nearly 300,000 of the 1.7 million claims it reported last week have either not yet been paid, or still need review.
That means more than 17 percent of people seeking aid from a safety net expressly constructed to help them in times like these, continue to live in a free-fall.
Worse, there is no estimate of the number of people who simply gave up attempting to file when faced with the agency’s confusing-at-best computer system and constant hang-ups when calling state-run help lines.
We continue to hear from our neighbors who continue to struggle as they wait for Michigan’s unemployment safety net to catch them.
They’re people who, like us, lost patience for excuses long ago.
Maybe about the same time they realized excuses don’t buy groceries.