Michigan Unemployment Agency Director Steve Gray said that he does not know if his agency discussed how it would handle a surge in unemployment claims caused by a stay-at-home order before and that he cannot give a precise timeline for when the agency will be caught up with processing.
Gray made the comments during an interview with the Detroit News on Wednesday, where he said that the agency is working to process unemployment claims as average calls have jumped from roughly 5,000 a day to 150,000.
“A system that is designed to have human intervention on our side really causes problems,” Gray said.
The system for processing an unemployment claim is designed to an individual review the case.
“There wasn’t enough staff, ever, that we could get to be able to handle all the call volumes,” Gray said. “What’s holding those last group of people who haven’t had been paid yet is the need to have individual people review the cases and we’ve only got so many people that can do that.”
Gray said it takes about six weeks to properly train employees. The director also said that he was unsure if discussions between his agency and the governor’s office had taken place in March to discuss the unemployment fallout of a stay-at-home order.
“I don’t know whether they happened before March 23, and I probably shouldn’t comment on any specific conversations we’ve had with the governor’s office,” Gray said.
March 23 was the day the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order.
Gray also said he was not sure when the agency would be able to process all the claims.
“I don’t want to make any promises because then when we’re not able to get it done by then, then people are going to get upset and going to call to find out what’s going on,” Gray said.
Gray’s statements were criticized by conservative group Michigan Rising Action.
“Over a month into this crisis and it’s clear Gov. Whitmer’s administration never had a plan for the over 1.2 million who have lost their jobs and that they still don’t,” said Tori Sachs, executive director of Michigan Rising Action, in a statement. “Gov. Whitmer’s focus on national politics in her bid to be named Biden’s running mate comes at the expense of finding solutions for the ongoing unemployment payment problems in Michigan.”
Michigan saw more than 80,000 filings for unemployment insurance in the week ending April 25, bringing the state’s total to more than 1.26 million in the past six weeks, according to data analysis by MLive.
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