Michigan's unemployment site crashes amid record claim filings

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Michigan's online unemployment system was down for nearly two hours Tuesday as the office fields more claims than the Great Recession amid business shutdowns due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The online filing system for the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity went down around 11 a.m. Tuesday and technical teams stepped in to resolve it, according to a Twitter posting. The site was back online just before 1 p.m., Jason Moon, a spokesman for the department confirmed. 

The state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency said Friday it has validated 140,000 of the 340,000 active unemployment accounts, about 41%, that had been frozen due to concerns they may be fraudulent.

Claim volumes have climbed exponentially in recent weeks and the amount being processed Monday coupled with an internal error on some servers "caused the system to be unstable," Moon said. The issue was immediately identified and has been resolved. Officials, he said, continue to monitor services. 

"We have experienced unprecedented demand," Moon said. "We want to ensure everyone who is eligible who files a claim will receive benefits. We ask them to be patient, and we appreciate their patience with this system over the last few weeks.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of 5,000 weekly claims were filed with the Unemployment Insurance Agency. The most recent statistics reflect 129,000 claims were filed in a week. 

During the Great Recession, between October 2008 and July 2009, an average of 31,500 initial claims were filed on a weekly basis with a peak week of 77,000, according to data from the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently expanded benefits to 26 weeks from 20 weeks, and the application eligibility period will be increased from 14 to 28 days. 

On Monday, the governor signed an agreement with the federal government that boosts unemployment benefits. The latest deal extends benefits to independent contractors, low-wage workers and individuals who are self-employed but can no longer work due to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Also, under the legislation and the state's agreement, weekly benefits for unemployed workers will increase $600 a week for up to four months.