Michigan unemployment site buckles under surge of claims from pandemic

"I just keep getting sent to the help page," said Maria LaCombe. "Which is absolutely no help."

LaCombe says it's been more than a week since she started trying to apply for unemployment. She was able to log in once and nearly completed the questionnaire but was kicked offline - and hasn't been able to get in since.

"I can't change my password - it's not accepting my login," she said. "It doesn't matter what time of day - it doesn't matter if I use my phone, iPad, computer. It's become so incredibly frustrating and disheartening because there aren’t solutions put in place for something very basic."

LaCombe, who works in dog training and as a nail tech, says the bills are starting to pile up adding so much anxiety to an already stressful time.

"It's affecting me mentally and physically," she said. "There's literally nothing cushioning me - you don't work -  you don't get paid."

And she knows she's far from alone, worried that so many are struggling to apply online.

Emily Allgeyer is a waitress who hasn't worked in two weeks and has a 3-year-old daughter named Daphne to provide for.

"It does not give an option to file a new claim," Allgeyer said. "When I log into MIWAM, it only gives me options based on the information from my last claim - and there's nowhere to file a new, anything."

Emily Allgeyer, left and Maria LaCombe

The Unemployment Insurance Agency says people like Emily, who are eligible under the CARES Act through the federal government should wait a few days to apply, and that there will be more instructions coming.

"It's clear that the system is just totally overwhelmed," said Attorney Jennifer Lord.

Lord has sued the state in the past over computer programming within the unemployment agency.

"It's got to be overwhelming - you've just lost your job and the safety net that's supposed to be here for you, you can't even reach it if you spend all day," Lord said.

To give you an idea of how many people are applying, the unemployment office is accustomed to about 5,000 claims per week. Last week, there was 129,000 claims.

And that's just in one week - the state asking people to be patient - apply on the day they're assigned and do so in off-peak hours - a spokesman says they are working on all of these issues. He says workers do have 28 days to apply and they will get their benefits.

People like Allgeyer and LaCombe are just hoping solutions come sooner - rather than later as families need this money.

"Obviously you don't have a solution to ending COVID-19, but can you find a solution to help us log in and get the help we need," LaCombe said.

The state says workers who continue to have technical issues should contact leo-coronavirus@michigan.gov.

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