Speaker of the House Jason Wentworth today called on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to remove Unemployment Insurance Agency Director Liza Estlund Olson and give the beleaguered agency new leadership and a new direction. Director Estlund Olson took over after the previous director resigned amid criticism and failure.
“The simple truth is UIA isn’t getting the job done for Michigan families,” said Wentworth. “The people of this state need UIA’s help more than ever right now, and instead of rising to the challenge, they are letting us down over and over again. We have all waited long enough and given them more than enough chances, but it just isn’t getting any better. It is time for Gov. Whitmer to make a change and finally give people struggling with unemployment a fighting chance.”
Michigan’s unemployment agency has been a constant source of problems for residents during the COVID pandemic. In 2020, the agency paid out millions in fraudulent claims, delayed payments for months to tens of thousands of real Michigan residents, and allowed politically connected state employees to skip the line past hard-working families trying to make ends meet. Under Director Estlund Olson, things have not gotten better. Recent instances of mismanagement include the following:
- UIA failed a federal monitoring report last winter and has still not fixed 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 sewed fear and confusion by sending 700,000 people a letter raising the possibility of back payments.
- UIA knowingly denied benefits to thousands of people who deserved help rather than update their software.
- 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 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 earlier this week.
- UIA still has 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.
“Our families, friends and neighbors were put in a terrible position in this lockdown, and many of them are still desperate for help, but the UIA simply cannot or will not help them,” said Wentworth. “The stories I’ve heard from people in my community are absolutely heartbreaking, and I know we all know someone who shares the same struggles.”
“Far too many good people have been forced out of their jobs and left out to dry by their state government. They are all done waiting for UIA to figure it out. I’m done hearing all their excuses. The governor has to make a change and give Michigan families the lifeline they deserve.”
Speaker Wentworth says economic development legislation moving through the Legislature in December reflects part of a larger focus on long-term job retention and growth in Michigan.
Michigan House Republicans today detailed a comprehensive plan to support public safety personnel and better protect the people they serve – including an innovative out-of-state recruitment plan to address an officer shortage at local law enforcement agencies.