President Donald Trump’s signing of the historic $2.2 trillion economic relief package late Friday afternoon was met with happiness, but also a little frustration from Ethel Clark-Griffin of Benton Harbor.

She said she was laid off from JVIS Manufacturing in Benton Harbor on March 19 when the plant closed and is glad the package includes expanded unemployment benefits. However, Clark-Griffin said she’s been trying to sign up online or by phone since Monday with no luck.

“If I can’t get through, that won’t affect me,” she said. “If I don’t get through by this week, I believe I lose the first week of benefits.”

Because of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order issued earlier this week, the ability to sign up for unemployment benefits in person has been canceled.

Clark-Griffin isn’t the only one who is frustrated. She said other laid-off workers keep calling her for help since she’s the plant’s union representative, but she has no help to give.

Benton Harbor native Diane Young said people have been calling her, asking for help registering for unemployment since she works as a success coach at Michigan Works.

Young likewise can only advise people to keep trying.

“They just have to keep calling and going online,” she said.

The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency sent out a news release recently, asking people to be patient because the online system is overloaded. Before March, the average number of hourly transactions was around 5,000. Now, MILogin is processing about 25,000 transactions per hour, according to the release.

Because of the backlog of people trying to file, UIA Director Steve Gray said that the eligibility window to apply has been increased from 14 to 28 days from the date of their work stoppage.

Not enough money

Gwendolyn Williams of Benton Township who is retired, said she disagrees with the stimulus package because it isn’t focusing on what is truly important.

“It should have included (COVID-19) testing for everybody and paid for treatment if people get sick,” she said. “... That should have been automatic.”

Williams added that it isn’t enough money, anyway.

“It’s nothing but smoke and mirrors. It’s a diversion,” she said.

Trenton Bowens of Benton Harbor agrees that the stimulus doesn’t give enough money to the people who need it.

“It’s going to pay off some bills,” said Bowens, who works two jobs and was laid off from one. “I’m like many other people. We’re living paycheck to paycheck.”

He said part of the problem is that many of the companies and businesses that have closed will not reopen, leading to a lot of people being unemployed for a long time.

“We need a universal income,” he said.

Transparency needed

Mary Brown of St. Joseph said she’s worried about what is hidden in the bill.

“I am very supportive of any legislation that will help the American people survive this without having a hardship,” she said. “I just want to make sure they didn’t put things in this bill that shouldn’t be there.”

Brown said she’s especially concerned about the $25 million in the package to support the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

“This is not a time for self interests,” she said. “This is a humanitarian effort to take care of our people.”

She said all of the money should be going to help people survive, and for critical supplies such as respirators.

Chriss Lyon of St. Joseph agrees that the money should be focused on helping people and on addressing the pandemic. Lyon said she hopes the package does some good and isn’t just a big giveaway of money.

“We’re in an election year,” she said. “Stop with the politics and focus on the people.”

The package calls for individuals to receive $1,200 if they make less than $75,000 a year and for married couples to receive $2,400 if they make less than $150,000 a year.

Dannetta Moore of Benton Harbor said those limits are set too high.

“A person who makes $75,000 makes enough money that they know how to save some,” she said.

Moore said she won’t turn down the money, but feels it could have been used in a better way to help the people who truly need it.

When The Herald-Palladium asked for comments on Facebook, Dawn Fredrickson of Stevensville said she doesn’t need or want the money from the package.

“Help those who need it but why go further into debt when there are those who really don’t need it?” she posted.

Help to pay bills

Kateesha Adams is the property manager of Hope VI Group, which includes four low-income housing developments in Benton Harbor, with 242 units.

“I definitely believe that this will be helpful,” she said.

Adams said the office is shut down to comply with the governor’s order to stay home. But she says she has to go into the office once a day to get the mail. When she does, she said the phone rings off the hook.

“A lot of my tenants are extremely worried,” Adams said. “They call, saying they’ve been laid off and don’t know if they can pay the rent.”

She said the money from the stimulus package will help them pay some of their bills.

An anonymous person from Bridgman said some people are homeless and haven’t filed income taxes for several years, but receive Medicaid and food stamps. He wants to know if they will receive a check.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege