Legislator concerned with UIA efficiency as people remain without needed payments
State Rep. Jack O’Malley, a member of the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic, this week heard from the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency and representatives from the automotive and manufacturing industry as Michigan continues to deal with COVID-19.
UIA Director Steve Gray shared with the committee on Thursday that there is a backlog of 200,000 cases which still need to be resolved by the agency. Within this number are 14,000 people who have not received any payments for their claims and many more who have only received partial payments and continue to wait on weeks owed.
“I understand people at UIA are working hard. Director Gray told us that they have one million active unemployment cases. That’s a lot of cases,” O’Malley said. “But people also expect state government to work effectively and efficiently for them. It’s difficult to hear from people who had been without needed payments for 10 or 12 weeks, or people who continue to be without these payments into a third or fourth month. We need some accountability to ensure UIA is following through on what they say they are implementing – because some people are just still not seeing it.”
O’Malley took issue with UIA alleging that they had cleared everyone with claims prior to July, or made every attempt to reach them but were unsuccessful.
“I have two people in my office compared to the many, many people working at UIA and (Wednesday) we were able to call and get in touch with 11 people in my district who all answered and all had outstanding claims from prior to July,” O’Malley said. “Just in the four counties I represent, Sheila has been waiting 24 weeks for her benefits. Pam has been waiting 18 weeks. Chris was paid for roughly three months unemployment but now has been told he has to pay it all back. Joseph has talked with someone at UIA, but has not received benefits after 13 weeks.
“I don’t know what I would do going on 24 weeks without income. These are real people who are struggling and they have not gotten their situations resolved by the agency.”
O’Malley said he feels part of the problem lies with the software the agency has used to respond to the surge in claims. Director Gray said in testimony before the committee that some elements of the current software could be contributing to continued outstanding claims.
“It’s crazy that a simple mistake when filling out a form online – especially in a high-stress time like this when mistakes are more likely to be made – could land you in this purgatory for two or three months without a resolution,” O’Malley said. “People need these benefits to pay the bills and put food on the table. It’s disheartening to hear the agency report that a sizeable amount of cases still need to be resolved, because a case is a dressed-up word for a person out there struggling to get by.”
On Wednesday, the select committee heard from automotive industry representatives who shared strategies for how they are staying open responsibly and working to keep employees safe, while also discussing future plans.
The industry quickly pivoted to making ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face shields and gowns to meet both state and nationwide shortages as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in the spring. General Motors Regional Director of State Government Relations Brian O’Connell said over 2,700 salaried GM employees have devoted over 22,000 hours of service since factories started converting resources to making medical equipment.
“Michigan was coined the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ in World War II and the state has stepped up again thanks in part to noble efforts of this industry and its workers,” O’Malley said. “These industries supply not only our state, but the world – and they have gotten people safely back to work in order to do so. This industry should be a model as we continue to reopen sectors of Michigan’s economy.”
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