State Rep. Sarah Lightner this week testified before a House committee in support of her plan to improve service for residents dealing with the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency.
Lightner, of Springport, said the reforms address the numerous mistakes and procedural issues that frustrated hundreds of thousands of jobless residents during the pandemic, with a goal toward improving service and establishing a system hard-working Michiganders know they can count on in the future.
“During the pandemic, people in our community were reaching out to my office, desperate for help because months had gone by since they filed for unemployment and they still hadn’t received a check or any communication from the agency,” Lightner said. “Quite frankly, that level of service is unacceptable. My goal is to set a higher standard.”
Specifically, Lightner’s measure, House Bill 5553, requires the unemployment agency to review and determine someone’s eligibility within 10 business days of a claim being submitted. There currently is no clear-cut timeframe or deadline to review a jobless claim.
Other parts of the plan include:
- New provisions to protect workers: Trimming the current three-year look back period to one year will give jobless claimants and job providers more certainty moving forward. Lightner said she has been contacted by many residents who are on pins and needles – unsure if they will get a bill in the mail from the state asking for repayment years after they have received benefits due to an administrative mistake. The House Oversight Committee is also advancing separate legislation to prohibit UIA from going after money that was wrongly paid out due to a misinterpretation of federal law.
- Accountability for the people: To address continued customer service concerns, the plan creates a new independent citizens’ advocate to serve as a point-of-contact for families who need help getting the jobless benefits they deserve. UIA would be required to submit a report to the citizens’ advocate outlining the number of cases that have been appealed by the agency and sent to the internal Board of Appeals Commission, as well as the length of time cases have sat before the commission before a final resolution is reached.
- More communication within state government: The proposal requires UIA to provide accurate and timely data regarding the status of the agency’s trust fund that is used to pay out benefits. The fund was heavily depleted as millions sought benefits over the last 18 months – causing concerns that money would not be available for benefits and that businesses, which are charged with paying into the fund, would see a contribution increase. The reporting would improve communication between a vital administrative arm and representatives of the people.
House Bills 5549-54 remain under consideration by the House Oversight Committee.
The Biden administration overstepped its authority and tried to enforce a horrible one-size-fits-all mandate that would have put hardworking people and local businesses in a tough spot. No one should be forced to receive a vaccination in order to provide for their family. And no employer should be forced to crack down on employees for their personal health decisions.