GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A state representative is launching an investigation into Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency after the UIA wrongfully added qualifying reasons to unemployment applications.
The state said it never got approval from the U.S. Department of Labor, and now hundreds of thousands of claimants have to re-certify.
“The unfortunate thing is this isn’t the first mistake we’ve seen out of the agency,” said State Rep. Steven Johnson.
He’s following the UIA issues for more than a year and chairs the House Oversight Committee.
Its members have looked into the UIA not paying people on time and even wrongfully saying claimants owe the state thousands.
“Why do they keep screwing this up?” said Johnson. “What’s going on with their leadership there? I think we’re gonna have to see a change in leadership in order for us to really have some trust in this agency.”
The agency recently sent out a letter to more than 600,000 Michiganders telling them that four qualifying reasons the state added to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) applications should have never been there.
The state error, Johnson says, needs to be investigated.
“We actually had a whistleblower inside the agency come to us a few months ago saying that this was going to happen,” said Johnson, “but they would not come forward publicly for fear of retribution.”
Because of the state’s error, people who qualified under the now non-qualifying reasons were approved and paid.
The UIA has to re-evaluate those claims.
“That does seem like an administrative error if there ever was an administrative error,” said Rachael Kohl, director of the Workers’ Rights Legal Clinic at Michigan United.
“This is not the fault of the claimant; the claimant did everything right,” she said. “They filled out the form to the best of their ability, they were truthful and honest to the agency about why they were seeking unemployment benefits, and the agency granted those benefits knowing full well the reasons why the claimant applied and tried to receive benefits.”
Thousands of people collected the benefits, used the money for bills and food, and put the unemployment issues behind them.
“They put the money back into the economy, they paid their rent or their mortgage to stay in their home, and they put food on their tables for their families, and now the state’s coming back and saying, ‘Well, all of those thousands of dollars we paid you, you need to pay it back to us.' Well, they don’t have it,” said Kohl.
Kohl tells FOX 17 if people have to re-certify then they have to remember everything that happened to them months ago and pick the best reasons for filing.
The state can come after you for overpayment without a court order.
But Kohl says there are federal and state provisions protecting people, especially if the state made the error.
“If they are forced to pay back this money, that’s a huge hardship on them, and the legislature has contemplated that they shouldn’t have to pay it back due to an administrative error,” she said.
If you got that letter, the UIA says you need to log onto your MIWAM account, click on “Requalify for PUA” and then choose another valid COVID-19 reason.
The UIA is working on a waiver process.
I contacted the U.S. Department of Labor to what — if any — consequences the state could face.
That question was never answered, but a spokesman told me the agency is aware of the situation and it will continue to work with the state as needed, saying, “The state’s action reflects communications by the department’s Employment and Training Administration’s (ETA’s) Chicago regional office with the state and the state’s review of ETA guidance.”