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Unreliable site adds to turmoil

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 last week 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 news briefing.

For context, roughly 219,000 people filed for unemployment the week of April 5, and the statewide total is more than 1 million claims filed. And that number is only going to grow, says Donofrio.

The site was down for most of April 13, 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. Donofrio said last weekty that 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 percent have been approved.”

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.

* Guest editorial from the Detroit News.

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