Editorial: Unreliable jobless site, data add to turmoil

The Detroit News

Information is everything in a crisis. And it seems Michigan, along with many other states, is struggling to relay some vital data to residents — and get them access to the financial support they need. And that will only lead to additional stress as citizens navigate this pandemic. 

Michigan’s unemployment website crashed Monday as the online filing system began processing three new categories of claims:

► Newly eligible low-wage and self-employed workers.

► Those with approved claims verifying their benefits.

► Those with previously denied claims trying to fix their issues and get approved. 

"As of [Monday] night we saw higher traffic than at any point in the last few weeks," said Jeff Donofrio, director of Michigan's Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, in a Tuesday press briefing.

For context, roughly 219,000 people filed for unemployment last week, and the state-wide total is more than 1 million claims filed. And that number is only going to grow, says Donofrio.

More:Another 219K people filed for unemployment last week in Michigan

The site was down for most of Monday, but it’s reportedly been up and running smoothly  since. It’s absolutely essential that the state of Michigan’s information technology staff stay on top of this issue.

Since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has shut down large portions of the economy to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the state must be prepared to deal with the spiked demand.  

The state's online unemployment system was down for most of Monday, but it’s reportedly been up and running smoothly  since.

Donofrio said Tuesday the department is working hard: "The state's IT department assures us they have added additional server capacity, and it seems to be working."

The state has recommended an alphabetical schedule whereby people should access the website according to their last name and has asked people to try signing in to do their business during off-peak hours (between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.).

In addition to boosting server capacity, Donofrio says they’ve expanded call center hours, increased their call center staff and assembled a team dedicated to resolving IT issues for users having difficulty logging in to the site. 

"But this still isn't good enough,” he said. “We have to do better to ensure that everyone gets the help they need. We continue to ask for your patience as we work to process your claims. Out of the million who have filed claims so far about 70% have been approved."

That's progress, but there are other systems in need of attention, too. In a press briefing Wednesday, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan criticized Michigan’s system of reporting COVID-19 death counts.

"This whole reporting system in this state is just not reliable," he said. "Saturdays and Sundays stuff doesn't get reported, it tends to come in later.” 

Mayor Mike Duggan holds a press conference on April 15, 2020.

That’s one of the reasons that Michigan appeared to experience an uptick in mortalities early this week. About 12 of the 45 deaths logged Wednesday were older cases.

The times are unprecedented, and it’s understandable that our state systems are struggling to stay on top of these issues. We all need to have patience.

But if we’re going to get through this, we need smooth-running systems and accurate data.