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WATCH: Benson outlines service advances at SOS branches

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Posted at 8:36 AM, Jun 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-08 21:53:20-04

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced on Tuesday that her offices are adding 350,000 more appointments, along with greeters at office doors to help with scheduling visits and priority service for residents needing a disability placard.

It comes amid concerns after Benson previously said the current appointment-only structure at branches was here to stay.

Some have said it takes far too long to get an appointment.

Watch the press conference here:

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“We were able to do this after discussions with our frontline workers who, concerned about the chatter here in Lansing to revert back to a broken ‘take a number and wait’ system, suggested ways they could work harder and faster to be able to handle more transactions efficiently and quickly,” Benson said during a news conference. “It’s an extraordinary testament not just to their dedication to the department but their recognition that having residents schedule their visits ahead of time is a vastly superior way of doing business.”

By shaving minutes off transaction times, the department plans to increase the number of appointments by 25% between now and the end of the fiscal year.

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More than half of the 350,000 new appointments were released Monday, and Benson says the remaining half will be split up and released every weekday at 8 a.m. and noon between now and Sept. 30 as next-day appointments.

Appointments can be booked online or, for individuals with internet limitations, by calling 888-SOS-MICH.

In addition, residents will be able to book appointments in person thanks to a pilot program that will place greeters in front of many of the department’s busiest offices this month.

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When visitors arrive without an appointment, greeters will tell them if any staff are available to serve them and, if not, assist the customer in scheduling a return visit.

The same service will be available at offices without dedicated greeters when counter staff is able to approach the door between appointments.

Residents needing disability placards will now be served as soon as possible after arriving at any office, though these residents are still encouraged to schedule their visit ahead of time.

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Benson says the department suffered during “decades of disinvestment and neglect by the state Legislature and previous secretaries of state,” who cut staff by more than 40% and closed 46% of offices even though the state’s population grew 10% and the number of vehicles increased 25%.

She also criticized the Legislature for not granting her department’s request during the pandemic to grant expiration extensions on a rolling basis. Instead, Benson says, every license and vehicle plate in the state was set to expire on March 31, putting 13 months of pent-up demand on the system all at once.

The secretary of state wants to address this through a series of bills that would provide $25 million in COVID-19 relief funding for additional department staff and overtime.

FOX 17 stopped by the SOS branch on Plainfield in Grand Rapids Tuesday afternoon to hear how people have been handling the appointment-only setup.

“I think it's really a good way to do it, you know, because you're not standing here in line with 50 other people... and mass confusion in there,” said Carl Rosekopf, who had made an appointment to get his new Harley registered.

We asked Wayne Stapley if he had any issues making an appointment over the phone.

"Nope, pretty easy," he said.

"Once I got through, I waited about 15 minutes before a young lady came online. She was very pleasant, very professional.”

For the folks we spoke to Tuesday, they would prefer this system remains in place.

"Maybe even open up more appointments," said Brianna Kryger, who was just leaving the office when we spoke with her.

"I know a lot of people don't have license plates, or just need a new ID or something like that. Maybe if they can open up more appointments or something that would be better, you know, to accommodate people's needs.”

And that happens to be what Secretary of State Benson is attempting to do.