GRANDVILLE, Mich. -- The story of one man's battle with the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) sparked a large response from around West Michigan.
The FOX 17 Problem Solvers' tip line, station email accounts and Facebook page received a lot of feedback following Joshua Coster's story. Many of those individuals said they or someone they know has also been wrongly accused of fraud and charged a fine by the UIA. They said there's little to no recourse.
Dan Wilder and his wife, Carrie Borchers, are among them. The Grandville couple plan to buy a house and just started a small business. However, those tasks are on hold because of their dealings with the UIA.
“It is frustrating to say the least," Borchers said.
The couple said the problem started when Wilder lost his job in January 2014. His company got sold, and the new employer wanted to downsize.
“They needed to cut the fat," Wilder said.
The former owner even wrote Wilder a positive job review after he was let go. Wilder provided the review letter to the Problem Solvers.
Borchers said, “Dan immediately filed for unemployment benefits. We received notification from the state he was eligible to claim benefits.”
He collected benefits for 6 weeks, and it totaled roughly $2,000. Wilder said he landed a new job in March and notified the state.
“We thought, ‘phew.' We hit a little bump in the road," Borchers said.
But fast forward to December. Just before Christmas, the state sent the couple bad news in the mail.
“In December, we received a letter in the mail from the UIA stating that he owed $10,870," Borchers showed FOX 17 the documents. [exact amount: $10,867.86]
The state accused Wilder of fraud and wanted more than five times what he collected. Surprised, confused, and unable to get through to anyone with the agency, the couple hired an attorney.
Apparently, the state sent Wilder a message in September to his ‘online unemployment account’. But keep in mind, Wilder got off the unemployment rolls in March of that year. He said he had no reason to check the account.
The state questioned Wilder’s eligibility for benefits after someone from his former company said poor performance was the reason for his dismissal and not cutbacks.
That was despite the positive review Wilder got from his boss. Borchers believes the company tried skirting its responsibility to pay for unemployment.
“When we looked at the information that they submitted to the state, it was a hundred pages of fraudulent information," Borchers recalled. "Emails that Dan wasn’t a part of, facts that weren’t there, errors that occurred when Dan was on vacation, on our honeymoon," she added.
She said the company submitted the negative claims three times in 2014. In September, the state sided with them and went after Dan.
Wilder said, “I understand that people are abusing, can abuse the system. But I just simply wanted to collect unemployment until I found a new job.”
“He was the poster child for using the system the right way," Borchers said.
Borchers reached out to the FOX 17 Problem Solvers after seeing a similar story last week. The state also went after Joshua Coster for $2,700 despite the fact that he never collected a dime of unemployment. The state claims there was a discrepancy in his unemployment application and took the money from his federal tax refund.
"I'm not trying to commit fraud. I'm not that kind of person," Coster said.
He added, "I'm kind of at a loss right now... ya know, [on] what to do."
After our story aired, the UIA agreed to review Coster's case. UIA spokesperson Lynda Robinson said the agency is also willing to look at other cases the Problem Solvers bring to their attention.
Borchers said, “When I saw your story last week, I said, 'There’s someone [else] here in town!'"
She continued, "...and then I’m reading all these comments [on Facebook]. So I felt better that there were other people that this is happening to, but then I got really angry, cause it’s like this is happening to a lot of people, a lot people and it cannot continue.”
The husband and wife are glad they contacted the Problem Solvers because their attorney has gotten nowhere on their case.
Borchers said, “And our attorney, just as recently as today, has reached out to the UIA to find out where, where do we stand with our request for an appeal before an administrative law judge and she can’t get a response from the UIA."
"They're like, ‘We don’t know why we haven’t responded. I’ll have to talk to a manager.' And it’s like uh… nobody knows. Is anybody in charge? Does anybody work in this building?” Borchers questioned.
Although the UIA didn’t want to talk to the Problem Solvers on camera about all of this, they did send a written statement. They tell us that each case is unique and that they take customer concerns seriously. They go on to say:
“The agency will thoroughly review each case and work with the customer on a resolution in accordance with the law. If it is determined that an error has been made on the part of the UIA, the agency will work to rectify the situation accordingly.”
They also say anyone with questions or concerns regarding unemployment benefits can call them at 866-500-0017.
Later this week, the Problem Solvers sit down with an attorney who filed a federal lawsuit on the matter.