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New UIA Community Connect program partners with local groups to close gaps in access to jobless benefits
August 28, 2023
Liaisons will work with community, faith based, and cultural organizations to identify roadblocks, provide solutions
A new Community Connect equity initiative from the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) will partner with local groups throughout the state to provide guidance for workers from underserved groups who have faced barriers when filing for jobless benefits.
Under the UIA Community Connect program, 10 regional experts will provide hands-on help and expertise in navigating the unemployment insurance application process, connect workers or employers to resources within the UIA, and provide outreach and education.
“Our staff will work hand-in-hand with local organizations to identify specific barriers and challenges and provide solutions for expanding access to unemployment benefits,” said UIA Director Julia Dale. “By focusing on each region’s unique needs, we can better serve all residents across our diverse state.”
The Community Connect region-based staff will meet directly with workers to help them apply for benefits. Team members will also collaborate with community, faith based, and cultural organizations to educate workers who may be unfamiliar with the unemployment system or wary of participating in a government program.
Using feedback from on-the-ground connections established around the state, the regional staff will identify roadblocks to equitable access to benefits and help develop solutions. Each liaison will cover one of 10 regions of the state – from Metro Detroit to southwest Michigan, from mid-Michigan to the Upper Peninsula – to build important community connections that can close gaps in the delivery of UIA services to both rural and urban workers.
The liaisons will also work with employers in their region by reaching out to workers in the event of a layoff, connecting employers to UIA programs, and answering questions about unemployment.
Resources simplify access for workers
The UIA Community Connect program is part of a wide-ranging UIA modernization drive that is making it easier for workers to access services and apply for benefits:
- The Claimant Roadmap: An easy-to-follow, user-friendly six step guide to applying for understanding benefits.
- First-time filer coaching sessions: Online, web-based guidance from UIA staff who will walk users through the steps needed to complete an application and qualify for payments.
These and other resources can be found at Michigan.gov/UIA.
UIA Community Connect is funded by a $6.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to improve access to services for rural and urban workers who may have limited internet access or must overcome language barriers.
Community Connect builds on reforms at the UIA
“These new resources for workers are cornerstones of an exciting transformation at the UIA,” Director Dale said. “We’re aggressively fighting fraud, listening to the needs of our customers, providing exemplary customer service, and building a new computer system that will serve our worker and employer communities with the latest technology.”
The changes highlight Director Dale’s efforts to transform the UIA into a national model for fast, fair, and fraud-free service, including:
- Creating the UIA Modernization Workgroup, consisting of labor, business and jobless advocates to advise the UIA on significant improvements in how it can better serve Michigan workers and employers.
- Installing a new computer system that will include robust anti-fraud processes to build on the agency’s current aggressive practices. The Deloitte uFACTS system is expected to be fully operational in 2025.
- Securing a more than $2.3 million equitable access and communications grant from the USDOL Tiger Teams initiative to redesign and simplify how UIA engages with employers and develop a help center for accessing agency services.
- Naming a Legal Advisor and creating the Legal and Compliance Bureau to leverage collaborative anti-fraud practices for pursuing bad actors.
- Revamping the agency’s public website at gov/UIA so it is more user-friendly and responsive for those accessing services using cell phones or tablets.
Other significant changes throughout agency
Since being named in October 2021 as director of the UIA – the agency's 11th in as many years – Director Dale has also:
- Collaborated with the Attorney General’s office as well as local, state and federal law enforcement to bring bad actors to justice and combat fraud at the agency. To date, 158 individuals have been arrested or charged in connection with unemployment benefits fraud, 79 have been convicted, and 47 sentenced for their crimes.
- Extended through September 2024 nearly 50 limited term positions in the Fraud and Investigations Division, with plans to hire at least 30 more.
- Reassigned staff and resources to address the largest categories of claims that are contributing to the agency’s case backlogs.
- Rebuilt the UI Trust Fund to more than $2.3 billion (and growing), from which weekly benefits are paid to workers.
- Approved more than 76,000 overpayment waivers (with more to come) of state and federal benefits paid out during the global pandemic, waiving more than $555 million.
- Halted overpayment collections on claims filed since March 1, 2020, while the agency addresses pending protests and appeals. More than $13 million was refunded to workers since May 2022.
- Implemented new ethics and security clearance policies for employees and contractors.
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