The web Browser you are currently using is unsupported, and some features of this site may not work as intended. Please update to a modern browser such as Chrome, Firefox or Edge to experience all features Michigan.gov has to offer.
UIA Director Julia Dale: Michigan's jobless agency is ready for reform
December 19, 2022
This column appears in today's The Detroit News.
The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency has had 11 directors in as many years over multiple administrations, each with their own priorities. Add to that a global pandemic forcing 3.5 million hard-hit Michigan workers to file nearly 6 million jobless claims and you can see why the agency is too often defined by the word “embattled.
Let’s be honest: the UIA historically has not delivered top-shelf service. That’s ending now.
To better serve Michigan workers, the UIA is boldly being transformed to create a national model for fast, fair, and fraud-free service. October marked my first year as UIA’s director and in that time the agency has made substantial gains, including announcing Deloitte as the firm that will install our next-generation computer system.
Deloitte’s system will be modern, innovative, and user-focused. It will replace the aging system installed a decade ago under Gov. Rick Snyder and will ensure the timely payment of benefits as well as a robust fraud detection program.
Still, there is more work to be done -- starting with ensuring that everyone affected by shifting, unclear federal pandemic guidelines gets the relief they deserve.
So far in 2022, UIA has waived $555 million in overpayments on more than 76,000 claims to Michiganders unjustly caught in the bureaucratic maze caused by COVID-19. That includes more than more than $17.9 million in refunds to people who had paid back or begun paying back these benefits.
When federal money is involved, the UIA is required by law to collect overpayments, unless specific suspensions are obtained from the federal government. We fought for those suspensions and won, persuading the U.S. Department of Labor to suspend collections from nearly 400,000 Michiganders who were told they had to repay jobless benefits they received under federal programs. This puts money back in Michigan workers’ pockets to put food on the table and pay the bills and ends the stress that the overpayment process caused.
While unburdening innocent taxpayers, UIA is pursuing thieves and fraudsters who thought they could exploit the surge of unemployment benefits. Working closely with the state Attorney General’s office, federal prosecutors, and local law enforcement, the UIA has helped bring charges against 90 people accused of stealing taxpayer money. It’s not just outsiders: last month a former UIA staffer was arrested in connection with a scheme to bilk the agency out of more than $1 million. This past summer, a former UIA staffer was sentenced to two years in federal prison after being found guilty of defrauding Michigan’s jobless program of $1.5 million.
If you steal money that should go to deserving Michiganders, we will come after you. It does not matter if the accused worked for the UIA or filed a fraudulent claim using a stolen identity. We will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.
There is a lot more happening, too, in our reform of the agency:
- Our website was overhauled to make it more mobile-friendly and easy to access.
- We hired an administrator for customer service and have seen our approval ratings for those who contact us over the phone increase to 90 percent.
- We have received a $6.8 million equity grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to ensure underserved communities across the state are able to apply for benefits.
- The UI Trust Fund that pays out benefits to workers has been rebuilt to nearly $1.8 billion (and counting).
- Staff and resources have been reassigned to address the agency’s COVID-19 case backlog.
- Employees and contractors must abide by new, strictly enforced ethics and security clearance policies.
The UIA’s goal is to help people survive their hardest days, and to provide relief free of complications, opaque guidelines, and unfair penalties. The reforms that have been implemented are strides in that direction, offering real relief for Michigan families.
It will take effort and time to right past wrongs and rebuild trust. However, we refuse at UIA to accept anything less than excellence in service and accountability.
This is UIA’s promise: If you steal from taxpayers, we’ll track you down. If you need help, we’ll lift you up.
Julia Dale is Director of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.