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Lawmakers hold hearing to ask questions about Michigan's unemployment system

Posted at 11:20 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 23:20:21-04

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — People struggling to get unemployment benefits they say they deserve and want answers. Why is Michigan’s system not working?

Thursday a state house committee put the director of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency in the hot seat - asking her why so many people have complaints.

Lawmakers say they have heard from many constituents who say they are being asked to pay back benefits they believe they rightfully received, or they are struggling to get benefits they are owed.

“It’s just not right,” said Jim Kosta, who applied for unemployment benefits.

Jim Kosta lost his job when the pandemic put Love’s Furniture out of business. He applied for unemployment benefits last fall. He says he made a clerical error and found it impossible to fix. So he went to court.

“After the judge reviewed everything she granted my appeal,” said Kosta.

The court order was issued in June. He says he still can’t seem to get paid. He wants answers from the agency.

“For those calling for my removal, this is not an easy job,” said Liza Estlund Olson.

Liza Estlund Olson is the second director of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency in less than a year.

“I would say that your department historically during the last year and a half has failed, said State Rep Jack O'Malley (R-District 101) .

During a House Oversight Committee Hearing, lawmakers said the agency was slow to handle issues and caused panic when it sent notice that people who applied for benefits in good faith may owe money. Some have been told the issue is resolved, but others are facing collections if they don’t act.

“There are people who received benefits and now we have determined they were not eligible for those benefits. They can however request a waiver,” said Olson.

Olson says the biggest problem is the sheer volume of work. The Unemployment Insurance Agency says during the Great Recession we saw five times fewer new claims per week than we saw as the pandemic started. It has served more than 2 million people who received benefits. It has asked for about 500 more workers.

“So you’re telling me the legislature has not authorized the additional employees requested, and yet we are complaining about customer service, but are not giving you the people you need?” said State Rep. Julie Brixie (D- District 69).

“It has not been authorized since March. Correct,” said Olson.

The agency says its software isn’t meant to handle the volume it is seeing. It is beginning to look for new software options, but there is no quick fix.

"They need to fix it," said Kosta.