LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan’s unemployment rate last month pulled even with the national rate for the first time in 15 years, but some people trying to get unemployment benefits are still having a hard time because of a major backlog.
The state agency responsible for unemployment appeals is backlogged by almost 28,000 cases. That’s more than five times the normal amount. The state admits it’s a problem and says it is working to get it fixed, but it may be too late for some people by then.
Doug Plum was a trucker for more than 30 years and said he was let go in November 2014 after using an unauthorized ladder.
“They said, ‘No, you’re fired. It was in your booklet. You should have read it. See you later. Bye,'” Plum said.
He applied for unemployment and was denied, so he hired an agent to fight it. But he can’t even get a hearing date. His case is just one of the 28,000 stuck in the backlog.
Plum said the waiting has been “hell.” During five months without income, he had to put off surgery for his wife and dig into their savings, which are nearly zero.
“I noticed in about the last year and a half an extreme backlog of cases,” said Allen Burkall, who is representing Plum. “By the time six months has gone by, they have suffered so much damage to their financial situation that the money doesn’t help.”
State officials declined an on-camera interview regarding the backlog on Wednesday, but did send 24 Hour News 8 statements pointing to two main reasons — an increase in the number of appeals due to the unemployment processing becoming more efficient, and technical problems with new computer systems.
“Pay me what they owe me,” he said. “I got to pay them what I owe them. I mean, come on.”
The state says it has hired 22 new judges to help speed up the hearings. That should increase the number of cases handled per week from 27 to 32.
The state hopes to have the backlog eliminated by the end of the year.