State Rep. Sarah Lightner today helped introduce sweeping reforms to fix the state’s broken 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.
“The unemployment agency failed far too many local families after people were forced out of work during the pandemic,” Lightner said. “After listening to the experiences of residents and delving deeply into the issue, we came up with solutions to create more accountability and make sure the unemployment agency serves residents more effectively in the future.”
The multi-bill package includes:
- A consistent and accelerated review process: New rules will require UIA to complete reviews and determinations within 10 business days. The change, which Lightner is personally sponsoring, will help Michigan residents who are out of work and in need of assistance to make ends meet and support their families. There currently is no clear-cut timeframe or deadline to review a jobless claim.
- 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.
The legislation, House Bills 5549-54, were referred to the House Oversight Committee for consideration.
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