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Will opening up Unemployment Insurance Agency offices help those struggling to get benefits?

Posted at 3:34 PM, Jun 25, 2021

We have heard from thousands of people through the pandemic who have struggled to get the unemployment benefits they are entitled to.

Starting on June 30, they will have an opportunity to try to get help in person (click here to make an appointment).


But is that enough to solve their problems?

The state closed unemployment insurance agency offices due to COVID-19 as pandemic filings for benefits skyrocketed.

36.1 Billion paid to workers since 3/15/20

Even now over the last week, the state unemployment insurance agency says it handled an average of more than 23,000 calls per day.

One of those callers was Tiffany Voisin.

"Unemployment feels like this never-ending loop," said Voisin.

Michigan Unemployment Call Center numbers

She said after she was hospitalized with COVID and missed work, she lost her job. Voisin filed for unemployment and received benefits for 9 weeks. Then the benefits were cut off.

She said she was told she needed to re-submit identity verification paperwork, which she did on May 12.

"That they have it and it is in the final stages of being processed. That is what I am told every time I call," she said.

Voisin said she's applied to 100 jobs since March. And this isn’t just impacting her. She is a mom to two little girls.

Tiffany Voisin on issues with unemployment benefits

"My lights have been close to being shut off for the last 2 months," said Voisin.

Rachael Kohl is Director of the Michigan United Workers Rights Center. She said before the pandemic she got about 20 calls a week from people asking for help with unemployment benefits. Now it is in the hundreds.

"Just for context, unemployment has been an issue since before the pandemic," said Kohl.

She said she hopes that this is an opportunity to fix issues. One of the problems, she said, is that the agency is over legislated.

Rachael Kohl

Not only is it forced to take numerous steps that slow down its ability to help people, laws ban many people from getting benefits in Michigan, who in other states would be eligible.

"The Michigan legislature has created one of the most restrictive laws in the entire country," said Kohl.

While there have been some temporary changes due to federal pandemic benefits, when it comes to state benefits, many people apply who do not qualify.

  • People who retired from one job then took another do not qualify if they lose that job.
  • People who quit a job recently and then took another do not qualify for benefits if they lose the new job.
  • Part time workers do not qualify, even if they work full time hours at multiple jobs.

We basically have a security net with gaping holes in it that many people fall through.

"Maybe the legislature has intended to cut out about 75% of Michigan's workforce, and that is actually what it is. It's about 75% of unemployed workers in Michigan will not be able to get unemployment benefits," said Kohl.

There are some bills proposed in Lansing (read full bills below) that would expand eligibility temporarily due to the pandemic, or try to make the website less confusing.

Voisin said she feels there is a stigma associated with needing unemployment.

She fears that prevents changes from happening to make it easier for people to get the benefits they are entitled to receive.

"You’re messing with people’s livelihood. You’re messing with my ability to take care of my kids," she said.

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