Legislator: Despite high volume of unemployment calls, extended hardships are simply unacceptable
State Rep. Jack O’Malley, of Lake Ann, today pointed to testimony provided by concerned and struggling citizens as a clear example of Michigan’s unemployment services not hitting top gear and providing needed transparency while people depend on its efficiency.
O’Malley serves on the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic, which is looking into the decision-making and preparedness of the administration and state departments during the current public health emergency. The bipartisan body, which features both House and Senate members, listened to comments on Thursday from Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio.
Donofrio largely echoed thoughts shared by Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency Director Steve Gray last week regarding the challenges the agencies have faced in response to fallout from COVID-19.
“Mr. Gray said he hadn’t heard of people who were waiting six, seven and eight weeks for benefits that will help them provide for themselves and their families,” O’Malley said. “Well, we had many here telling their story. These are real people like the ones I hear from every day. They were discouraged when the governor’s orders took away their ability to make a living and they believe the system in place has failed them.”
More than 1.7 million Michigan residents have filed for jobless claims since mid-March. More than 26 percent of the state’s workers have experienced job disruptions of some kind and a Wednesday report from the Department of Technology, Management and Budget revealed the state’s unemployment rate had more than quadrupled in April to a staggering 22.7 percent.
UIA and LEO proclaimed in their respective testimonies that over 90 percent of claims have been fulfilled to date – during a time in which the agencies have been overwhelmed with calls and applicants. Against the sheer amount of total people unemployed – which continues to increase – that percentage equated to roughly 124,000 people across the state still waiting on benefits as of Monday.
O’Malley said more work must be done to ensure people have benefits now, while also formulating best practices for future emergencies and the implementation of executive orders which arise from those emergencies.
“My concern is for our emergency planning. There wasn’t enough in place to give our state’s unemployment system a chance to succeed,” the first-term legislator said. “They were going to get slammed when the governor made the call to shut down large portions of Michigan’s economy while halting hundreds of thousands of livelihoods across the state. That lack of preparation is what has led to the delays and hardships we have heard about from many people.
“Our emergency contingency planning must be more effective – plain and simple. That’s not really hindsight. It’s common-sense when you’re going to put that many people out of work. Inevitably, they’re suddenly going to be in need of something to keep them going financially. The administration fell woefully short in projecting how big that problem was going to be.”