State Reps Call for Re-Opening Unemployment Agencies
Three months after Michigan's shutdown lead to soaring and unprecedented unemployment, tens of thousands of people are still waiting for their first unemployment check.
Today, Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic Chair Matt Hall today agreed with state Rep. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) on the need to reopen regional Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) branches in sections of the state where it can be done safely – helping formulate a smarter approach to eliminating a severe backlog of unfulfilled claims.
The nearest office to Battle Creek would be at Michigan Works in Kalamazoo at 1601 South Burdick Street.
In a committee hearing ton Thursday morning, Hall welcomed Cambensy and concerned residents from across the state who have experienced difficulty with getting their claims processed or fulfilled by the UIA. One person, Jeff Lang of Brooklyn in Jackson County, was laid off on March 24 and previously shared with the committee on May 27 that he had been unable to qualify for or receive benefits. Lang disclosed today in follow-up testimony that he received a call from the UIA the morning following that testimony with prioritization from the governor’s office, and has since been declared eligible and received benefits.
“Our committee gave Mr. Lang a platform to share his experience and he was able to get benefits he was owed, but there are thousands of other people out there who are still waiting for resources they need to pay bills and put food on the table,” said Hall, (R) of Marshall. “Legislators are hearing from them constantly and our offices are doing our best to help them, but Gov. Whitmer’s office and the agency responsible for overseeing the timely fulfillment of claims are also responsible. They need to do more to get people the payments they need and deserve.”
A bipartisan group of 12 Michigan House members recently sent a letter to the governor requesting the strategic regional branch reopening – similar to Secretary of State branches opening for limited appointments on June 1.
Hall expects the $29.1 million in federal funding the House appropriated to UIA on Wednesday will improve the agency’s response to desperate people across the state. The money will go to improving technology and increased staffing, allowing the agency to hire up to 500 additional temporary contract employees for six months to ensure more claims are processed.
Roughly 2.2 million unemployment claims have been filed since mid-March as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shut down much of Michigan’s economy with ‘stay home’ orders. In testimony before the committee in May, UIA and the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity each revealed updated numbers on how many people had yet to receive any payments for their claims.
Hall will look to UIA to provide another update in committee testimony next week. The most recent number given was 124,000 – provided by LEO Director Jeff Donofrio on May 21 – and Hall said he has been unable to secure any data since.
“The people of Michigan deserve transparency and answers to the many questions they still have on how this agency is operating,” Hall said. “Our committee is committed to holding state government accountable to the people it is serving, and state government needs to work effectively and efficiently in both emergency situations and normal times.”