Steve Gray

Gray

Your May 10 editorial on unemployed workers questioned the Unemployment Insurance Agency’s (UIA) commitment to serve Michiganders and we want to assure your readers that we are working tirelessly to continue to provide this emergency financial assistance to those that need it most.

This pandemic is a public health crisis, but also a historic and unprecedented economic event.

Since March 15, 1.7 million Michigan workers applied for unemployment. The weekly high during the Great Recession was 77,000 and we eclipsed that total for six consecutive weeks — hitting a high of 390,000 in one week.

Due to Governor Whitmer’s and the agency’s actions, Michigan has been a leader in the number of claims processed and benefits paid — with $5.62 billion sent to nearly 1.4 million workers. Nationally we are second in claims processed and third in claims paid.

And while 92 percent of all workers who have applied for benefits have received them or will soon, it’s those 8 percent of people that still need a one on one review of their claim.

These are the workers who keep us up at night and doing everything we can to process claims quickly. These reviews are a federal requirement to check a claim’s validity. And the process which normally takes two to three weeks, is taking longer due to the sheer volume.

While we agree we inherited a system that puts unnecessary burdens on our workers, we were able to overcome these obstacles through the governor’s actions. She expanded eligibility and access to those who are sick or need to take care of loved ones, increased the eligibility period, suspended the normal in-person registration, and the requirement that workers search for jobs during this crisis.

We cut more red tape and got money out the door faster by relaxing the verification process and ending the 10-day hold employers can put on claims. We were among the first states to begin sending the additional $600 federal payment under the CARES Act and provide unemployment benefits to self-employed workers.

As this crisis unfolded, we immediately added staff — going from 130 customer-facing employees, to more than 725 additional staff and contractors. We also pulled in 200 state government employees from beyond UIA and trained 380 staff from Michigan Works agencies to help.

I also wanted to clear up your editorial’s misconception regarding laid off government employees. The State of Michigan, like many large businesses, initiated an Employer Filed Claim on behalf of its employees. Those employees, just like any other claimant, still must go into the unemployment system and they are processed in the order they are received. We encourage all employers to initiate claims on behalf of their employees who are laid off.

I am proud of the work the agency and this administration has done, but we know there is a lot left to do and we are committed to making sure every eligible worker in Michigan receives the unemployment benefits they are entitled to.

Steve Gray is director of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency. He is a professor and attorney with 30 years of expertise in unemployment insurance and administrative law.

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