COVID-19 committee to hear about frustrations with state’s unemployment system
State Rep. Matt Hall, of Marshall, on Wednesday will join committee colleagues in hearing more stories from struggling, out-of-work people who have unsuccessfully attempted to secure needed unemployment benefits over the past two months.
The Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic, which Hall chairs, began listening to testimony last week from people across Michigan concerned with the lack of responsiveness from the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA). Issues included long wait times, calls being disconnected, website failures and the inability to have a claim processed or fulfilled.
“People have had to reach out to their legislators in desperation because they are not being heard by the Whitmer administration, so we are giving them an opportunity in a public forum to be heard,” Hall said. “Many of their stories contradict what the committee has heard from the agencies responsible for overseeing payments and needed support. They have said they are unaware those stories exist. So we want to draw attention to them so they will be fixed.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has continued to issue ‘stay home’ orders during the ongoing public health emergency related to COVID-19. These orders shut down workplaces and have sent state unemployment numbers skyrocketing over 20 percent.
Roughly 124,000 people who have filed claims have yet to receive unemployment benefits as of last week, according to testimony from Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio. In addition, it was revealed an unreported amount of people have only received partial payments and are still waiting on weeks they are eligible for, with some having their claims for those weeks disputed. The department refused to disclose how many people are currently in that category.
Terri Williams, from Marshall – a community Hall represents in the Michigan House – explained in the same hearing that she was forced to take out a pair of loans – one against her 401(k) – in order to pay bills after trying unsuccessfully since March to receive payment for her claim. She noted she has been unable to speak with anyone at the agency about the unfulfilled payments. Brian Daniels, a certified dental tech in Gratiot County, called the UIA a “black hole” due to the issues he encountered when trying to get his claim resolved.
“I am anticipating similar stories in our hearing Wednesday,” Hall said. “Each one of these testimonies is powerful. Both lives and livelihoods have been impacted by the pandemic and decisions made by the Whitmer administration in the face of this emergency. We owe it to the people we represent for those stories to be public, so government can be accountable and transparent while functioning in a way that best suits their needs.”