Can Michigan’s Unemployment Mess Be Fixed?
Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency is entering this new week with a monumental task. It has about 850 employees solely responsible for verifying valid accounts and weeding out fraudulent claims for benefits. Tens of thousands of benefits claims may be fraudulent. In some cases, the scammers are using stolen personal identities of real Michigan workers who have also filed claims. Some scammers are using stolen identities to file claims where the real Michigan resident has not filed. Another category of claims involves completely faked identities created to attempt to get payments. It all involves lots of detail and contact work. Michigan’s system, like others throughout America, is being hit by scammers daily. Over the last several weeks, tens of thousands of new claims filed are suspected of being fraudulent. The state agency has over 58,000 verified fraudulent claims pinpointed since March 15th. 25,000 of those have come in since the first of the month. Over 90,000 of the more than 200,000 new claims flagged as potentially fraudulent are now cleared. About 110,000 potentially fraudulent claims are still under review. The state reports 2.1 million eligible residents have applied for unemployment benefits since the Governor began the shutdown over the COVID-19 virus outbreak. So far, the state and the federal system have paid out 11.4 billion in benefits to those recipients. At one point a couple of weeks ago, 340,000 claims were flagged as potential fraud. 200,000 were cleared in short order, but the remaining claims are proving to be more difficult to prove one way or another.
The state claims over 93% of eligible claimants have received or are approved for benefits. Of the remaining 7% of unpaid claimants, most are flagged for suspicion of fraud. Currently, 100,000 unpaid claims are flagged as potentially fraudulent with 37,000 unpaid claims being held up for other reasons.
Marshall Republican State Representative Matt Hall says there are major problems surrounding the unemployment agency. Hall chairs a special select legislative committee reviewing the state's response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The jobless picture is one of the most important. Hall admits to frustration dealing with the agency saying,” In less than 24 hours, UIA has provided two vastly different numbers. This inconsistency speaks to what the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic has looked into, and what people who have been frustrated with the state’s unemployment system have told us for weeks: that UIA does not have a firm grasp on the severity of this issue. Late last week, Unemployment agency Director Steve Gray reported to Hall’s committee that over 166,000 Michigan residents who had filed claims have received no payments. What is clear to Representative Hall is that by figures presented by the agency to the committee, and reported publicly, there may be over 350 thousand valid unemployment claims from Michigan residents, stuck somewhere with no means to get resolved. Hall’s select committee has heard from workers and small business owners across Michigan about their growing frustrations with the state’s unemployment system. Director Gray has agreed to testify Wednesday morning before the select committee. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is refusing to appear before the committee to help get to the bottom of the thousands of cases languishing with little action.