Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Michigan Chamber of Commerce Misses the Obvious on Unemployment Agency Claims

Back to Bush Recession reality today. George may be gone, but the aftermath of "conservative" economic policy still hits our state pretty hard.

The state announced Wednesday that its seasonally adjusted jobless rate for December soared to 10.6 percent. That's up from 9.6 percent in November and the highest monthly rate recorded in the state since December 1984.

The slide has continued with the downfall of the national economy that increased speed last September, the last two months of the year being exceptionally bad.

Michigan's jobless rate has increased by nearly two percentage points since September. Job reductions were widespread in December, throughout nearly all of Michigan's major industry sectors. Payroll jobs fell by 97,000 in November and December alone.

Rick Waclawek, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, said job losses accelerated in the second half of 2008 in Michigan and the United States.

The national average jumped from 6.8 to 7.2, putting a strain on state unemployment agencies all across the country. Three states totally crashed, others are experiencing the high volumes and long waits that we have seen here in Michigan.

About 4.5 million Americans are collecting jobless benefits, a 26-year high, so the Web sites and phone systems now commonly used to file for benefits are being tested like never before.

Even those that are holding up under the strain are in many cases leaving filers on the line for hours, or kissing them off with an "all circuits are busy" message. Agencies have been scrambling to hire hundreds more workers to handle the calls.

Systems in New York, North Carolina and Ohio were shut down completely by technical glitches and heavy volume, and labor officials in several other states are reporting higher-than-normal use.

California has reported a record number of calls; Kentucky's lines were "overwhelmed". Staff and expanded services are being added in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Washington - and those were just the states that were provided as examples for ABC's story.

It is happening everywhere. And naturally, the people in Michigan who complain the most about "state spending" are the first to complain when services aren't available. Even though this is a nationwide problem, with numerous examples that indicate it as such, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce is pretty sure this is all Granholm's fault.

"With unemployment steadily climbing, the Unemployment Insurance Agency and governor's office should have seen this problem and taken appropriate steps to be prepared," said Block, the state Chamber's director of health policy and human resources, in a statement.

She criticized the agency for worrying about a name change, and proposing new ergonomic rules, as "misplaced priorities."

And speaking of "misplaced priorities", the MCoC wants the Legislature to start an investigation into the matter, as if it isn't glaringly obvious as to what is going on here. Nothing like wasting lawmakers time and taxpayer money to score partisan points when improvements to the system are already on the way...

50 employees have been added since July, 90 more are coming by the end of the week, server capacity has been expanded, internet use has been encouraged and is up by 30%. They are doing this as quick as they can, and other improvements were announced today to further help eliminate the problems.

• in addition to the 50 staff hired last July, UIA is hiring another 276 employees to staff Remote Initial Claims Centers (RICCs) and Problem Resolution Offices (PROs), beginning January 26;

• RICCs, which are call centers, will remain open three hours longer each day, until 6:00 p.m. on weekdays.

• PROs will be open two additional hours each day, and staff will work each night until 7:30 p.m. to process additional claims.

• expanded hours for automated telephone system (MARVIN), including adding availability on Saturdays, beginning January 29;

• opening an additional call center in Lansing that will add an additional 200 lines to assist citizens;

launching an internet version of MARVIN, allowing individuals to certify for their benefits online instead of by telephone, beginning January 21;

• adding additional computer servers to enable the UIA to process up to five times the normal volume of claims filed electronically, effective immediately;

• adding additional server capacity to the UIA’s online web account system for unemployed workers, which allows them to check the status of their claims online to further reduce call volume, beginning January 26;

• adding further main frame capacity to increase the number of claims that can be processed during the day;

• seeking and receiving union agreement to contract with former and retired agency staff who can quickly come on board to assist;

• increasing already mandatory overtime for all UIA staff – compulsory nine-hour work days and three Saturdays per month, beginning January 26;

• re-assigning current DELEG staff to assist the UIA with adjudications;

• enhancing the Employer Web Account Management (EWAM) system to allow employers to manage their accounts online, including free access to the UIA employer handbook to promote online services;

• condensing training for new staff hires to one week with supplemental on-the-job training and expanded training hours including evenings and weekends

The state has been pretty proactive about addressing these problems, especially given the speed that this all came on.

Question now is: Will the Michigan Chamber of Commerce be willing to help pay for the expanded state services? Or are they going to continue to call for more tax cuts for business and reduced state spending? The hope is they will join us in the real world and work toward solving the problems, rather than continue on with the "cut and spend" failed economic policy and calls for useless money and time wasting investigations. Lawmakers have better things to do.