Thursday, January 8, 2009

Jenny for Secretary of Commerce?

Jennifer Granholm's name is being bandied about to be Obama's Secretary of Commerce. Has anyone checked out the unemployment situation in Michigan, and the efficiency of the state helping the unemployed with benefits?

Here's a tip: Get to the unemployment office before 3 p.m. After that, the doors are locked and nobody gets in.

Tuesday, it didn't really matter, though. The one-story office building at 3391 Plainfield Ave. NE was crammed with hundreds of jobless people, from the counters to the double-glass doors out into the parking lot.

Just before 3 p.m., you would be the 637th person in line. Soon, another 10 or 20 more people would shove in behind you before the security guard locked the door.

This is the face of unemployment in Michigan.

This is life in a state with the highest jobless rate in the nation, where 449,000 people are out of work.
Ellen Day

If you are lucky, like Ellen Day of Cutlerville, you get to stand in line for five hours, eat Tic Tacs for lunch and wait, sandwiched between people in their parkas and sweatshirts. Just waiting. Hour after hour.

If you are lucky, like the 51-year-old accounts-payable clerk who lost her job in June, you finally reach the counter and, in a few minutes, get your $224-a-week benefits extended.

Walking out into the parking lot at 3:30 p.m., Day raised her arms in celebration. "I did it!" she yelled to no one in particular.

For those who never have filed for unemployment, the first question is: Why don't these people just pick up the phone or dial up the state's Web site?

Every client who walked out Tuesday told me they tried all that. Day after day, they couldn't get through.

The phone was always busy or hung up on them.

The Web site either crashes or takes an hour and a half to load up a page, said Steve Waybrant, 52, of Wayland, even though he has high-speed Internet service.

The former warehouse manager said he tried to clear up a notice denying him benefits, but after a week of trying the phone and the Internet, he gave up.

Like hundreds of other people this week, he climbed into his car and drove to the Plainfield office.

His wait time: 4 hours and 45 minutes.

His problem was solved in a matter of minutes, he said. It was just a minor detail, it turns out. But an excruciating long wait was required to solve it.

It's not as though he could drive somewhere else. After the state shut down other offices, Plainfield Avenue is the only unemployment office on this side of the state...

I suppose she would be a perfect candidate. A lot of talk, without any results. Her spokewoman begs to differ:

Even as people for the third straight day waited in line four or five hours to resolve unemployment issues, officials Wednesday scrambled to prop up the backlogged state unemployment insurance system.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm is "very concerned" and directing that resources be made available to ease the crunch, spokeswoman Megan Brown said.

Michigan's response:

"Unlike other states, Michigan's system is continuing to function," noted Stephen Geskey, director of the Unemployment Insurance Agency.

That's the government definition of functional!

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