The Unemployment Insurance Agency fielded lawmakers’ questions Tuesday regarding about $3.9 billion it wrongfully paid out during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The questions from a joint meeting of the state House and Senate Oversight Committees were over an Auditor General’s report.
During questioning, State Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) said he saw a major issue as the UIA misinterpreting federal guidelines.
“They were told by the federal government that they had massively misapplied that language. They were told that they had been told that six months earlier. And the problem wasn’t immediately rectified,” he said.
The Auditor General’s report shows the UIA continued improper payments for months after the federal government notified it of the issue. Individuals who did not meet the federal standards or did not recertify after the UIA adjusted its criteria to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance were automatically deemed ineligible.
Senate Oversight Committee chair Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Township) said the report is clear there’s blame to go around.
“There was breakdowns across several executives. I think that that’s critical to understand. Understanding what role the executive office played or failed to play is critical too,” McBroom said.
The Auditor General’s report details a slideshow presentation from the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity with the UIA outlined the risk of wrongful payments if it were to prioritize speed in sending them out.
During the meeting, lawmakers found fault with the decision.
New UIA director Julia Dale said she can guarantee accountability going forward.
“I am already articulating to staff if there is a problem, if there is a pinch point, if there is an issue, I want to know about it.” –Julia Dale, Unemployment Insurance Agency
“I am already articulating to staff if there is a problem, if there is a pinch point, if there is an issue, I want to know about it,” she said.
Dale, who recently assumed the director role in late October, pointed out that she was the 11th person to hold that position in 10 years.
“It’s hard to develop a culture of accountability. It’s hard to develop a culture of management of teamwork where people are not operating in silos where they don’t feel that they have to or compelled to go out and make decisions on their own when the leadership is constantly changing,” Dale said.
Three more reports from the Auditor General are set to come out next year.