GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Thousands of people are expected to file for unemployment benefits due to Governor Whitmer’s new executive order that took effect Wednesday morning.
But thousands of people who filed months ago still have not been paid.
“My hours, and the children, it just started getting lower and shorter until it just stopped,” said Queashia Kindred, who filed after she stopped working in childcare.
She talked to me through a cracked phone because she can’t afford to replace it. Her MIWAM account shows her payments are processed but still pending.
“They say a manager has to sign off on it manually because it’s a large lump sum,” said Kindred. “And when you ask them for the supervisor’s name or number and if we can get in contact with them, they say there’s no number or there’s no email.”
Travis Hancock left his semi trailer mechanic job just before the lock-down. After it hit, he could not find another position.
“And then after that,” said Hancock, “I filed for unemployment, but I couldn’t get through until almost May.”
He too is waiting on a manager’s approval. Travis says he takes care of his two sons alone in White Cloud and has gone through his savings.
“And now here I am, still in the hole, trying to get back out of the hole, and they still haven’t paid me, and I’ve been approved for almost five-and-a-half months now.”
His account shows the payments are processed and pending as well. He found a job in June, so he has waived those weeks to keep his claim open. He tells me all of his past-due child support has already been deducted from his 18 weeks of benefits, but he has not seen a penny.
“And now we’re facing eviction and all that, and I can’t make enough money fast enough to get caught back up from them weeks that I was on lock-down,” he said.
Emily Vanheest of Wyoming worked at her children’s daycare.
“I have spent so much time on the phone the past few months,” said Vanheest.
She got laid off in June and then went back to work in July, and now those payments are still pending.
“I’ve talked to people in the past, probably four months, and every single time it’s ‘I’m sorry, all you can do at this point is just wait’."
After a couple of weeks back on the job, Vanheest was laid off again, this time because there weren’t enough kids coming into childcare. Her account now says “Stop payment indicator” for those weeks. She has sent in multiple emails but tells FOX 17 that not one of them has been answered. “And I honestly almost feel bad for the people that I talk to on the phone, because you can hear in their voice they feel bad. They wish they could help me, but there’s nothing they can do without that manager sign-off.”
And these three are not alone. There are tens of thousands of Michiganders waiting for a UIA manager to sign off on their claims. Which is why I have asked Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency multiple times how many managers they have, how many accounts are waiting for a sign-off, and how long people need to keep waiting.
Despite my repeated attempts, those questions have never been answered.
That’s why I filed an open records request.
They show recommendations are in place to make sure high-dollar payments are not fraudulent.
If you’re backdating a claim by more than four weeks, you’ll automatically have an identity verification issue. As an extra safeguard in the system, you’ll likely be asked to take a selfie with your photo ID. If you don’t do that, workers are told they should not approve the payment.
When it comes to the eligibility review with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims, you’ll be asked for more documents if the agency has a reasonable suspicion of fraud.
But I can’t see anything else under that section, because those guidelines are redacted.
The agency says it denied that part of my request because "the information contains trade secrets, which if disclosed, could provide customers with information on how to avoid detection and pass through the department’s review process” and possibly receiving benefits they’re not entitled to.
The documents also show there are more than 85,000 claims waiting for review. While there is an expedited process, most of that info is also blacked out.
Those waiting for their payments just want answers and their money.
“Thankfully I’ve never been in the situation where I’ve had to file for unemployment before, so this is a totally new ballgame for me, but, like I said, it’s been 19 weeks of ‘I’m sorry, you’re just gonna have to wait',” said Vanheest.
Lots of people are wondering how long this will all take, but the answer is there’s not a deadline.
The agency says, “there is no formal or informal timeframe assigned as to how long the manager review process takes.”