134,000 filed for Michigan jobless aid; 5-week total at 1.1M claims

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

More than 134,000 people filed for unemployment in Michigan last week, a significant downturn from the prior three weeks, but a number that does not yet reflect the lay off of more than 3,000 state employees and more than 6,000 hospital workers this week.

The additional 134,119 unemployment claims between April 12 and 18 bring the state total to roughly 1.18 million — nearly a quarter of the state's workforce — since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan. 

In the month and a half since Michigan identified its first coronavirus cases March 10, unemployment claims have climbed 128,006 between March 15 and 21, 304,335 between March 22 and 28, 388,554 between March 29 and April 4, and 222,207 between April 5 and 11. 

Nationally, 4.4 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the five-week total to 810,000 million Americans who have filed for unemployment, according to the Associated Press.

The uptick in filings came as the state's Unemployment Insurance Agency struggled to keep up with a website that continued to crash or move at a maddeningly slow pace.

Last month, the state asked claimants to file during off hours between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., then asked individuals to file based on the first letter of their last name. People with a last name starting with A-L file on Monday and Wednesday, while those with a last name from M-Z file on Tuesday and Thursday. 

“We are committed to providing this emergency financial assistance to Michigan workers as quickly as possible, but we know we still have a lot of work left to do to get every dollar in benefits to the working families that need it most,” Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio said in a statement. “We’re working around the clock to add capacity to the system so that we can continue to process all claims during this historic demand for benefits.”   

As of Wednesday, the state had paid out roughly $1.37 billion to more than 820,000 workers. 

On Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the temporary layoff or furlough of roughly 2,900 state employees. The Department of State furloughed another 900 employees to address an expected $1 billion to $3 billion hole in the state budget from lost tax revenue.

Those state employees were automatically enrolled in the state's unemployment system, ruffling the feathers of at least one GOP lawmaker who argued state employees shouldn't have favored status over those waiting weeks to file. 

Some of the state's biggest hospital systems also have announced permanent and temporary layoffs this week to address lost revenue due to the cancellation of elective procedures, the closure of outpatient clinics and the high cost of personal protective equipment. 

Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System will furlough 2,800 employees, while Beaumont Health will lay off 2,475 and permanently eliminate another 450 positions

Trinity Health system furloughed 2,500 employees at its eight Michigan hospitals about three weeks ago, and the eight-hospital Detroit Medical Center announced last week it had furloughed 480 employees.