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Rep. Martin: Time for new leadership at failing state unemployment agency
RELEASE|October 5, 2021
Contact: David Martin

State Rep. David Martin today introduced a measure calling for the resignation of Liza Estlund Olson, acting director of the troubled Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA).

Martin, of Davison, said the state unemployment agency has been a constant source of problems for residents in Genesee County and throughout the entire state. In 2020, the agency paid out hundreds of millions in fraudulent claims, delayed payments for months to tens of thousands of real Michigan residents left jobless by the pandemic orders, and allowed politically connected state employees to skip the line past hard-working families trying to make ends meet.

“How many different ways can one state department find to fail the people of Michigan?” Martin said. “The unemployment agency’s failures are so widespread and systemic that a change in leadership is the only way to move forward.”

Estlund Olson was appointed 11 months ago by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after the previous leader resigned amid criticism and failure. Things have not gotten any better at the agency under her direction. Recent instances of mismanagement include:

  • UIA failed a federal monitoring report last winter and has still not fixed all of the problems that were uncovered eight months later. Director Estlund Olson skipped the meeting with the auditors where UIA was informed of their failures.
  • UIA knowingly gave out benefits to ineligible recipients for months, and then sowed fear and confusion by sending 700,000 people a letter raising the possibility of back payments.
  • UIA repeatedly blamed multiple failures over the past year and a half on their software and a third-party vendor, including the failed website workers needed to use to apply for benefits. UIA and the governor quietly extended their contract with that vendor for another year in August.
  • UIA refused to hand over information regarding the back-payment letters to the House Oversight Committee. The mistake was only brought to light when a third party gave the information to the committee’s chair, Rep. Steve Johnson.
  • UIA knowingly denied benefits to thousands of people who deserved help rather than update their software.
  • UIA still had a backlog of 20,000 unpaid Michigan workers, 18 months into the pandemic and 10 months into Director Estlund Olson’s tenure.
  • UIA waited 15 months to open any offices for in-person appointments, creating barriers for Michigan residents without reliable internet access and older workers trying to get help. To date, the agency has still only opened some of its offices for limited appointments statewide.

“Tens of thousands of Michigan workers were forced out of their jobs during the pandemic and turned to the state for the unemployment benefits they deserved – only to find a dysfunctional and inept agency that cannot adequately handle its responsibilities,” Martin said. “It’s clearly past time to find new leadership that is focused on fixing problems and providing better, more reliable service for the people of Michigan.”

Martin’s measure, House Resolution 175, is expected to receive consideration in the House this week.

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