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Unemployed Michigan workers invited to fill out form about benefits problems

Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 11:20 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - A Michigan lawmaker wants to hear from unemployed workers who experienced problems with their benefits.

Republican State Rep. Steve Johnson of Wayland set up a new web form for unemployed workers to fill out about their experiences dealing with the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency. The House Oversight Committee chairman will use the information to work on fixes for the agency.

“This is about good customer service and a state agency operating in an efficient fashion,” Johnson said. “UIA has not had a good track record recently in this regard and our committee will look to find effective solutions both for the present and the future.”

The form is available weeks after the unemployment agency sent letters to 650,000 workers in June, asking them to refile eligibility information. The letters threatened that workers may have to repay thousands of dollars in benefits if they don’t comply or no longer qualify under new rules.

The letters were a response to changes in the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which Michigan unemployment officials say came well after the program had been implemented.

“We need to provide people with a voice and ensure those voices are heard. Right now, they’ve simply been handed a letter by the state and the onus is on them to make sure they don’t owe the state any money because of the state’s mistake,” Johnson said.

Johnson and the House Oversight Committee are conducting an in-depth investigation of the unemployment agency and its practices. He is concerned about what he calls a pattern of mismanagement, incompetence and fraud during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many people have questions about this. They are worried about being stuck with a bill and how a mistake like this could have possibly happened,” Johnson said. “The Oversight Committee is working to get answers and we’ll continue to make sure that impacted people have a seat at the table.”

The PUA letters are the latest controversy involving the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.

It was inundated with millions of claims in March and April 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions took hold, and overwhelmed its claims system. Thousands of workers complained of lengthy waits for their payments and a lack of response to questions or issues with their claims.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration quadrupled staffing for the agency and set up new modes for workers to reach out for help in 2020.

Last fall, Unemployment Agency Director Steve Gray left his position abruptly. He received a separation agreement with a payment of $86,000, but Whitmer never specifically outlined why he left his position.

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