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November 22, 2002

Hearing impaired also having trouble with Michigan Unemployment System

Nov. 22, 2002

By Henry Erb
Target 8 Investigators add more detail to the continuing story of a system in chaos.

(Grand Rapids, November 22, 2002, 6:00 pm) Sandy Reynolds lost her Steelcase job after 17 years and applied for unemployment compensation. That system requires people to report on their status by phone to get their checks. But Sandy Reynolds can't do that because she is hearing impaired. The state provides an alternative. A TDD system. A keyboard with which she can communicate over the phone. But Reynolds says "I was unable to get through."

It's a different twist on a story Target 8 Investigators have been reporting this week. People are not getting checks. Others apply for benefits and hear nothing for weeks. A complaint line to handle problems is overwhelmed. People can dial dozens, in one case reportedly more than 200, times before getting through. The reason is the state switched November 1 to a system of regional centers, moving all but a few people from local unemployment offices. But the move went ahead even though the automated system it was supposed to support still isn't ready.

The result has been confusion, delays and frustration. Now it appears nobody answers the TDD number that's supposed to help the hearing impaired. Reynolds is getting help from her father who makes the phone call to report her status. But they worry about others who can't rely on a family member. The Unemployment Agency says it is looking into the problem. When the automated system is finally ready, maybe by early next year, it will allow people to file claims and report by computer. An improvement that should also help the hearing impaired.

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