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Lansing — Seeing "unprecedented demand" for unemployment benefits, the State of Michigan is asking individuals making claims to file on different days of the week based on the first letter of their last names.

Efforts to restrict the spread of the coronavirus have forced layoffs and many businesses to close their doors in the state. Last week alone, more than 129,000 Michigan residents filed for unemployment, which was about 25 times the usual number of individuals who file during a normal week.

"We ask Michiganders to remain patient when filing for unemployment and to please follow this schedule to make it easier for everyone to access the emergency relief they need,” said Steve Gray, director of the state's Unemployment Insurance Agency.

"We’re recommending that workers go first to our 24-hour online system at Michigan.gov/UIA," Gray added Friday. "We urge workers to only use our phone system if they do not have access to a computer or the internet."

The agency said in a Friday press release that it's seeing "unprecedented demand for unemployment benefits." By having people file on different days of the week based on their last names beginning Sunday, the agency hopes to "alleviate bottlenecks" in the online and phone systems.

Some filers have said they have faced delays in trying to make their jobless claims or haven't been able to get through at all. 

When it comes to online filings through www.michigan.gov/UIA, the Unemployment Insurance Agency said it wants people with last names beginning with letters from A-L to file claims on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It wants people with last names beginning with letters M-Z to file claims on Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays.

Saturdays will be available for anyone to accommodate those who could not file during their allotted window, according to a press release.

As for filings over the phone through 866-500-0017, people with last names beginning with letters A-L are asked to call on Mondays and Wednesdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. People with last names beginning with letters M-Z are asked to call on Tuesdays and Thursday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Fridays will be available for anyone to accommodate those who could not file during their allotted window, according to the release.

Michigan has already increased the eligibility window to apply from 14 days to 28 days from the date of filers' work stoppage.

MiLogin also slow

The slowdown within the unemployment system is not limited to that specific service. The state’s MiLogin system also is experiencing delays due to increased usage. 

MiLogin allows residents to use one username and password to access several online services, such as unemployment, food assistance and Secretary of State services.

But the system is experiencing slowness due to the “surge” of people using the system, said Caleb Buhs, a spokesman for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. Prior to the March surge, an average of 5,000 people used the MiLogin system per hour. On Thursday, an average of 25,000 transactions took place on the system per hours. 

“It’s slowing the system down with all of these transactions and interactions taking place at once,” Buhs said. “We’re taking some steps to increase our capacity…and working with our vending partners to try and improve the ability to handle a larger capacity.”

The delays in the MiLogin process should not affect the Michigan residents seeking to take advantage of the expanded food assistance announced by Whitmer Friday since those individuals are already in the system. 

Food assistance expanded

Whitmer expanded the state’s food assistant program Friday for March and April, giving families already eligible to receive partial food assistance up to the maximum monthly allowance for the group size.

The expansion of benefits will impact about 350,000 households who received benefits in February, bringing those households up to par with the other 279,000 households that received full benefits that month. Eligible families do not need to reapply. 

“No Michigander should have to worry about putting food on the table for themselves and their families, especially during a global pandemic,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer on Friday also temporarily suspended federal work requirements for 27,000 people with dependents who receive food assistance. The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted a waiver to the state related the requirement Friday “to reduce the financial impact of COVID-19.”

The waiver will remain in place  “through the end of the month following the month in which the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration is lifted,” according to a statement from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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