Our unemployed deserve better

By Sen. Curt VanderWall
35th Senate District

The first half of 2020 has visited unprecedented misfortune upon the state and nation.

Tens of thousands of Michiganders have fallen sick from the COVID-19 pandemic, and thousands have died.

The threat of the virus remains with us; we will be dealing with it for the foreseeable future.

To pile catastrophe on top of tragedy, the state has seen the worst unemployment numbers since the Great Recession.

However, unlike the suffering we have experienced as a direct result of the coronavirus itself, our unemployment misfortune is a consequence of our response to the virus, and due to poor decisions by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the unemployment numbers are much worse than they should be.

The governor chose a blanket, one-size-fits-all response to the pandemic that has wreaked havoc on Michigan’s economy and, as a result, it has meant great losses for job creators, for livelihoods, and for families.

For weeks, Republicans in the Legislature have called on the governor to take a more reasonable approach to the crisis, considering regional differences so that areas of the state with very little presence of the virus could slowly and safely reopen.

Instead, the governor has stubbornly refused to work with the Legislature. She has entrenched herself in her autonomous approach to leadership, scorning input from the Legislature, a co-equal branch of state government.

Eventually the governor decided she could begin the process of reopening the state, but it was a case of too little, too late as unemployment numbers soared beyond reason.

There are now nearly a staggering one and a half million people out of work in Michigan as a result of the governor’s irresponsible approach to this crisis.

The unprecedented unemployment numbers have created an avalanche of traffic online and by phone to Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) system. This in turn has caused extreme delays for residents filing their claims and receiving payments. As of July 6, more than 58,000 residents still hadn’t received a payment for various reasons. 55,000 residents still wait for their benefits to resume after their accounts were frozen following the UIA’s initial response to potential imposter fraud.

While the administration has taken some steps to improve the problems at the Unemployment Insurance Agency, struggles remain. There are too few employees at the agency to handle the increasing number of claims being filed or calls about problems with existing claims.

The Legislature recently finalized a state budget supplemental that will provide $29 million in federal CARES Act funding to hire additional temporary workers to handle unemployment claims.

I am hopeful that this additional funding will help alleviate some of the problems. But clearly, other changes need to be made. This issue needs to be addressed so that we can ensure the system is meeting the needs of every unemployed Michigander.

The calls and emails that my colleagues and I have received regarding the unemployment debacle are a clear indication that Michigan residents are suffering.

You can contact my office at 517-373-1725 or via email at [email protected] if you need assistance with your claim.

In addition, if you have had a difficult experience with your unemployment claim, we want to hear about it. My colleagues and I set up an interactive new webpage for you to share your experiences or struggles. Please visit www.MiCovidStory.com to share your story.

Senator Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Health Policy and Human Services. He serves the residents of the 35th Senate District, representing the counties of Benzie, Crawford, Kalkaska, Lake, Leelanau, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Ogemaw, Osceola, Roscommon and Wexford. He can be reached at 517-373-1725 or [email protected].