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Record 129,000 Michiganders filed for unemployment last week

LANSING — A record 129,000 Michiganders filed claims for unemployment benefits last week amid fallout from jobs lost due to the virus outbreak.

The number of applications shattered the previous high of 77,000 in January 2009, during the Great Recession, which hit the state especially hard. Applications for the week ending March 21 rose more than 23-fold from the week before, according to a federal report, and represent 3% of Michigan’s total workers who are eligible for jobless benefits.

With layoffs mounting, a major expansion of unemployment benefits was included in an economic relief bill nearing final approval in Congress. It would supply 13 weeks of additional benefits beyond the 26 weeks Michigan offers.

The state caps benefits at 20 weeks, but Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this month ordered that people who apply before April 15 qualify for 26 weeks.

The federal legislation also would expand who is eligible to include those who exhaust their state benefits or self-employed workers who would not usually qualify — such as small business owners, freelancers and independent contractors.

“Clearly we’re dealing now with a hurricane that’s impacting the entire country, and we need an unemployment system that responds to that hurricane,” said Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan.

One provision in the bill would, for four months, provide an extra $600 a week on top of the average $325 that Michigan provides.

Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency, citing a tremendous number of calls, said this week that people were getting a busy signal and its website was slowing down at times. The agency said applying online during off-peak hours, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m, would expedite the process. The deadline to apply has been extended from 14 to 28 days. Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, almost five times the previous record set in 1982.

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