Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson wants the Legislature to add employees and allow overtime payments at branch offices.
Benson says the pandemic created a huge backlog of drivers needing to renew their licenses and take care of other business and she wants to reduce wait times.
“Now under normal circumstances, these appointments would have all taken place slowly over the course of the past 14 months, but because of COVID-19 many people put these appointments on hold, causing the backlog we face now.” —Stephanie Young, Democratic state representative of Detroit
Adding full-time employees and allocating money for overtime will help eliminate much of the backlog and streamline the appointment-making process, she says.
“A Broken System”
Democratic State Reps. Stephanie Young of Detroit and Rep. Julie Brixie of Meridian Township introduced two bills in the state House to add about 200 full-time employees at branch offices and approve overtime payments to allow for more appointments. But it’s unclear if they will even be brought up in committee. The total cost of the improvements would be $25 million.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Benson says the state also needs to correct mistakes made by prior Michigan officials. The cutbacks were made under Michigan Secretary of State — and current Republican state senator — Ruth Johnson.
“It was a broken system caused by decades of disinvestment neglect and an unwillingness to get to the root cause of the problem. The number of transactions our branch office infrastructure could handle was far less than what our residents needed,” Benson says.
Young says the Legislature needs to help clean up the mess it created.
“Now under normal circumstances, these appointments would have all taken place slowly over the course of the past 14 months, but because of COVID-19 many people put these appointments on hold, causing the backlog we face now,” Young says.
Over the past 15 years, Michigan closed nearly half of the branch offices and fired hundreds of employees even as the population and number of cars in the state increased. Data show the number of Secretary of State branch offices and employees has dropped by over 40% while the number of vehicles in Michigan has increased by 25%.
Since the start of the pandemic, Secretary of State branch offices have either been closed or operating at a limited capacity. The state Legislature allowed extensions for things like driver’s licenses that needed to be renewed in-person.
But that grace period ended at the end of March, and now there’s a flood of people trying to get appointments.
Benson Defends Branch Office Approach
GOP legislators criticized the Democratic Secretary of State’s new approach to operating branch offices. They claim some people are experiencing issues getting appointments at branch offices.
But Benson says the current method is working better than the old system, which she says used to cause hours of delays.
“Under the take-a-number-and-wait system, Michiganders were regularly forced to wait half a day or more in our offices with no clarity as to when their name would be called for service,” Benson says.