State officials on Tuesday said they’ve added more computer servers and are adding hundreds more staffers to answer phones to handle record-setting numbers of unemployment claims. On Monday, the state’s online unemployment system and several other state websites were down for about six hours, officials said. “We have greatly expanded our web servers,” said Jeff Donofrio, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director in a press conference Tuesday morning. “We are adding hundreds of staff. But our state system and state systems across the country for unemployment insurance have struggled to cope with these historic numbers.” The online unemployment system crashed Monday, the same day self-employed workers and independent contractors in Michigan affected by the COVID-19 pandemic could start applying Monday for unemployment assistance. The state has paid out so far $350 million in benefits to 600,000 people, Donofrio said. “That number is only going to grow as we move forward,” he said. During a pandemic that’s closed businesses and spurred Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to issue a stay-at-home order, record numbers of Michigan residents are filing for unemployment. One million have applied for aid, he said, nearly a quarter of the state’s workforce. Donofrio said the state is contracting with third-party call centers to help and pulling employees from other state departments to help with calls, as well as implementing mandatory overtime for staff. They are asking people to apply online based on their last names. Those with last names beginning with A-L can file Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Those with last names beginning with M-Z can file Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The state also is dedicating Saturday hours from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. to take calls from those unable to file online, said Steve Gray, director of Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency. Under a $2.2 trillion federal relief package, workers on state unemployment have already begun receiving a $600 federal weekly payment that’s in addition to their normal state benefit amount. Newly eligible self-employed workers, gig workers, independent contractors and low-wage workers can begin receiving their state benefit amount — paid with federal funds — and the $600 federal payment as early as April 20, officials have said. Eligible workers will need to provide proof of income to receive the maximum amount they are entitled to. This could include W-2s, 1099 tax forms and pay stubs. These workers will begin receiving federal benefits as early as April 20 after their bi-weekly certification. *By Christine MacDonald via The Detroit News*

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