Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency Director in the hot seat to fix massive problems with the system

Posted at 5:12 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 18:29:22-04

(WXYZ) — The numbers are staggering: 5.3 million Michiganders filed for unemployment in the last year and a half during COVID-19. That’s 26 times above normal and half of Michigan residents.

Acting UIA Director Liza Estlund Olson told the Michigan House Oversight Committee they’ve also had 500,000 attempts to get unemployment fraudulently that were stopped and the feds are prosecuting 39 people for fraud.

In June, unemployment service offices reopened but they are still appointment only. Claims are processed online or on the phone.

The agency has come under fire for being slow, inefficient, and even incompetent. It has the second director in less than a year.

“For those calling for my removal this has not been an easy job,” the Acting Director told the committee.

When it got contentious, she also said, “I absolutely take responsibility for what I have done since I entered this agency. We have had to make decisions on what are the priorities to get money out the door.”

Committee Chairman Rep. Steven Johnson, (R) Wayland, noted the previous director under Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer left a mess behind saying, “The resignation of Steve Gray in November of 2020. He left with an $85,000 hush fund payout on the way out.”

Estlund Olson also said her staff is working mandatory overtime to get caught up and some frustrations have boiled over saying, “While they are trained to work with angry and upset customers, I will not tolerate physical threats against my staff.”

The Acting Director pointed out she’s asked the Legislature for funding to add 500 staffers and, “It has not been authorized since March, that’s correct.”

George Stanko of Romulus got a letter last month saying his federal CCOVID unemployment was ending. The problem is he’s been unemployed for months and hasn’t gotten any payments.

“I never received benefits. And finally they told me I had to file a protest because I didn't prove my identity. So I filed a protest in March and, at that point, I was locked out of my account,” Stanko told 7 Action News.

Others say they’re being told their lack of unemployment is an internal problem in the agency and they’ve done nothing wrong.

Madalyn Hipple of Harrison Township tells 7 Action News, “It is frustrating. I don't have any answers as to why. Bills need to be paid. It’s difficult.”

The state Auditor General is also looking into the Unemployment Insurance Agency at problems and solutions.