Select committee holds second hearing discussing issues with state system
State Rep. Julie Calley underscored the need for additional efforts to ensure people who have been without paychecks for several weeks are getting them, after seeing their livelihoods halted due to the governor’s executive orders limiting business in the face of COVID-19.
“Legislators from across Michigan continue to hear heartbreaking stories from people who still cannot get through to file an unemployment claim, which means they remain unable to provide for their families,” said Calley, of Portland. “While Michigan’s unemployment agency was hit with a sudden and massive demand, effectiveness is lacking for too many people still trying to get their claims processed.”
Calley serves on the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic, which is looking into the decision-making and preparedness of the administration and state departments during the current public health emergency. The bipartisan body, which features both House and Senate members, recently heard testimony from Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio.
Donofrio largely echoed previous thoughts shared by Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency Director Steve Gray regarding the challenges the agencies have faced in response to fallout from COVID-19.
More than 1.7 million Michigan residents have filed for jobless claims since mid-March. More than 26 percent of the state’s workers have experienced job disruptions of some kind and a recent report from the Department of Technology, Management and Budget revealed the state’s unemployment rate had more than quadrupled in April to a staggering 22.7 percent.
Calley asked in the hearing why an individual who had an important role of communicating with legislators about the agency’s ongoing work to process claims was recently furloughed. Donofrio and LEO Director of Legislative Affairs Todd Cook admitted the decision was a mistake and vowed to improve lines of communication with those who are hearing from residents in need. Before the agencies spoke, the committee welcomed residents in such a position to share their experiences of trying to acquire unemployment benefits.
“Temporarily removing this person delayed support for struggling Michiganders who have already been waiting for weeks,” Calley said. “Shortcomings like this cause real impacts for those who are relying on services, and this committee will continue to explore ways to make improvements.”