Legislator says residents are struggling to get claims fulfilled
State Rep. Sarah Lightner, of Springport, today invited residents from her House district encompassing Eaton, Jackson and Lenawee counties to speak before Michigan legislators on issues they’ve experienced securing needed unemployment benefits.
The Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic has been tasked with 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, has heard testimony the past two weeks from the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) and the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
“These agencies explained they were unaware of people waiting two months for needed resources, but I have had several reach out to me with problems – as have many other legislators,” Lightner said. “It speaks to the sheer desperation of people trying to pay bills and put food on the table and the inaction of these agencies where people feel they have no other option except going to their state legislator to try and get a claim fulfilled.”
One individual who appeared remotely during Wednesday’s hearing, Jeff Lang, was laid off on March 24 and has yet to receive benefit payments. Lightner said another person who has been in contact with her office filed her claim in March and was finally able to get through to the UIA on the morning of May 26 – only to be told it would take three weeks before anyone would be able to review her file. Another person applied March 24 and was accepted for a payment, but has yet to receive it due to an unspecified non-monetary issue listed on his account, Lightner explained.
The group is part of a concerning number of people who have been put out of work through Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ‘stay home’ orders and essential business directives during the COVID-19 outbreak. The decisions led to more than 1.7 million Michigan residents filing jobless claims since mid-March.
“UIA recently unveiled a new ‘portal’ for us legislators to help constituents through. My office filed our first inquiry on the new system on May 15,” said Lightner. “The department is so far behind on processing claims, that not ONE of our more than 100 submissions on this portal has even been assigned to a caseworker, much less actually reviewed by the department – and that’s not to speak of the hundreds of inquiries submitted before that.”
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.
LEO director Jeff Donofrio revealed to the select committee last week that roughly 124,000 people across the state were still without any payments from claims.
“The agency was clearly overwhelmed to handle the astounding number of claims that were going to come in once the governor ordered so many livelihoods to stop,” Lightner said. “There is still a sizeable number of people who have gone seven or eight weeks without a paycheck and they are desperate for help. These hearings provide them a public forum where they can tell their stories of hardship.”