3/25/20 – How to apply for Michigan unemployment benefits during coronavirus crisis

(Mlive) – Hundreds of thousands of Michigan workers are out of work because of coronavirus-related business shutdowns and slowdowns.

A total of 108,710 unemployment insurance claims were filed in Michigan last week compared to a normal average of around 5,000 claims, according to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

Michigan reported its first two coronavirus COVID-19 cases on March 10. Since then, many businesses have temporarily closed or reduced their hours, especially after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the closing of businesses such as fitness centers and day spas, and limited bars and restaurants to take-out or delivery service only.

On Monday, March 23, Whitmer ordered remaining non-essential businesses to close to the public and have employees work at home, starting Tuesday, March 24. That order, no doubt, will lead to another surge of unemployment claims.

Below are some tips on getting unemployment benefits in Michigan.

Who qualifies?

Benefits are available to workers who have been temporarily laid off or lost their job through no fault of their own, and who have earned wages in Michigan over the past 18 months, and/or who passed the earnings test.

The earnings test is someone who with at least $3,589 in wages during one of the four quarters of 2019, had earnings in at least two quarters, and their total wages for the year were at least 1.5 times the wages of the highest-earning quarter.

If you’re unsure whether you meet that standard, go ahead and file an unemployment claim, said Tony Paris, an employment lawyer with the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, a nonprofit based in Detroit.

“There is no cost to file, no harm to file,” he said. “When in doubt, file.”

Incidentally, non-citizens qualify for benefits if they have a Social Security number and legal status.

Expanded qualifications

In response to the coronavirus crisis, Whitmer has expanded the unemployment insurance program to include:

  • Sick workers: Workers who are sick, quarantined, or immunocompromised and who do not have access to paid family and medical leave or are laid off.
  • Workers caring for children out of school or ill family members: Workers who have an unanticipated family care responsibility, including those who have childcare responsibilities due to school closures, or those who are forced to care for loved ones who become ill and who do not have access to paid family and medical leave or are laid off
  • First responders: Individuals working in the public health community who become ill or are quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19 and who do not have access to paid family and medical leave or are laid off.

Who doesn’t qualify

In addition to people who didn’t work in Michigan long enough or earn enough, unemployment benefits are not available to those who are self-employed, including contractors, freelancers and small business owners

Whitmer and her administration are trying to address that, said a press release from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

“The State is seeking solutions for self-employed workers and independent contractors who traditionally do not have access to unemployment insurance,” the press release said. “The governor has requested that President Trump issue a Major Disaster Declaration so that Individual Assistance and Disaster Unemployment Assistance through FEMA may be made available to additional Michiganders affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

How to apply

Because of coronavirus, Michigan Works! offices are closed to walk-in business and people must make an appointment for a visit.

People filing an unemployment claim can do so online, although so many people are filing claims that the system has been overwhelmed. (Click here to start the online application.) People also can call (866) 500-0017 to file a claim.