Legislator, bipartisan select committee meet with program’s director
State Rep. Julie Calley, of Portland, this week joined her colleagues in asking pivotal questions for concerned out-of-work Michigan residents who have been unable to access unemployment benefits.
In an effort to further transparency and accountability, the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic will focus on decision-making and preparedness both within the administration and certain state departments as the public health emergency continues. The bipartisan panel, which features both House and Senate members, met with Michigan Unemployment Agency Director Steve Gray on Wednesday to discuss notable issues the agency has faced with a surge in unemployment statewide.
“I have had many calls and emails from workers who are going on six or seven weeks without a paycheck – workers who saw their livelihoods disappear through the governor’s executive orders,” Calley said. “It’s important to dig into preparedness and protocol so we can streamline services for people who are still waiting on benefits to help them pay bills and put food on the table.”
Gray addressed the challenges the agency has faced during his testimony, revealing that nearly 135,000 people who have filed claims have yet to be paid. The agency had previously indicated that it can only handle 5,000 of the roughly 150,000 phone calls it receives each day.
In late April, Gray apologized for flaws that were being reported and said the state’s unemployment website was not as user-friendly as it could be.
Due to the spread of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a ‘stay home’ executive order which shuttered all businesses that were deemed ‘non-essential.’
The directive created a flood of more than 1.7 million Michigan residents who have filed for jobless claims since mid-March. More than a quarter of the state’s workers have experienced job disruptions of some kind. The UIA has struggled to keep up with the massive amount of claims, which has led to long wait times, website crashes and understaffing concerns.
Calley noted that even when claims have gone through, things have not been seamless.
“I’ve heard from more than one resident who had their benefits approved and paid to a different debit card number than their own,” Calley said during the hearing. “These types of issues aren’t anecdotal instances. Problems are occurring for people throughout the state who are dependent on services the state is charged with providing. I am pleased we could come together and examine the functionality of the agency during this emergency and hopefully partner in the Legislature to put in place best practices for the future.”
Calley said her office remains ready to serve residents and answer questions about COVID-19-related circumstances, such as applying for and acquiring unemployment benefits. Residents can reach her office by calling (517) 373-0842 or emailing JulieCalley@house.mi.gov.