State Rep. Roger Hauck today said a move by Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency asking for hundreds of thousands of federal pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) claimants to re-file information to make sure they’re eligible is grossly unfair – and once again shines a spotlight on the agency’s struggles during COVID-19.
The qualifications for PUA benefits – made available by the federal government to part-time workers and self-employed individuals who don’t usually qualify for state aid – are now in question due to state-developed data that was rejected by the federal government. As a result, almost 650,000 people were sent letters in June and informed that if their eligibility determination changes, they may be forced to pay back what they received plus interest.
“It’s a state issue. People were caught up in this through no fault of their own,” said Hauck, of Union Township. “It’s unconscionable the agency has taken the position that they’re going to charge a person interest on money that was sent out mistakenly on their end. Don’t penalize people for your mistake.
“People have already spent that money because they were in tough shape during COVID-19 and needed it to get by. Now they’re being asked to pay it back out of their own pocket once they’ve gotten back on their feet? That’d be a tough pill to swallow for a lot of people.”
Hauck said he supports House Oversight Committee chair Steve Johnson’s plan to investigate the agency and examine what led to the state not being on the same page with the federal government regarding qualification. A web form has also been created to give those interested throughout the state a platform to share their experiences with UIA, while detailing recent letters they have received regarding benefit eligibility.
During the 2019-20 legislative term, a special committee comprised of House and Senate members examined decision-making and state functionality during the pandemic. The hearings included agency leaders as the Legislature worked to provide people across Michigan with accountability and transparency as hundreds of thousands struggled to get unemployment claims fulfilled.
The problems, under former director Steve Gray, included staffing issues, increased exposure to fraud due to decisions made by the agency and people waiting months to get needed unemployment payments while not being able to contact anyone at the agency. Gray resigned in November and was replaced by Liza Estlund Olson.
Hauck is in his third term representing residents in Isabella County and portions of Midland County.
State Rep. Roger Hauck, of Union Township, on Wednesday voted to approve a budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year that makes critical investments for people across Isabella and Midland counties.