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Unemployment investigation: Lawmaker wants to reform notification process

Posted at 8:48 PM, Jun 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-30 20:48:13-04

WEST MICHIGAN -- Bill Griffey and Dan Wilder both have something to smile about. Their debts imposed by the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency have been cleared. The FOX 17 Problem Solvers previously interviewed both gentlemen about their woes with the state department.

Griffey faced a $23,000 fine from the agency. As you may recall, the state accused him of working two jobs while collecting unemployment benefits. However, the Plainwell man said he wasn't working. On top of that, he said he never worked for Panda Express. After getting nowhere with the agency and providing proof from the company, he reached out to the FOX 17 Problem Solvers for help. We reached out to the UIA. After a couple of weeks, an employee at the agency cleared his fine. (That includes an alleged overpayment, penalties and interest.)

"They said that they're getting used to the system and that there's glitches," Griffey told FOX 17.

He added, "What a relief, ya know, that this is actually behind us. It feels good. I want to thank you. I want to thank the FOX 17 Problem Solvers for all your help."

A $10,000 fine caused a lot of sleepless nights for Dan Wilder. The Grandville man went head to head with his employer in front of a judge. Administrative law judge Steve Brown was convinced Wilder was telling the truth all along. While their discrepancies are different,  many people having problems with the agency have a few key things in common.

"A lot of it boils down to the state... me not replying to the email," Wilder told FOX 17.

Hundreds aren't learning there's a potential problem until they get a letter in the mail. By then, it's too late. The agency is accusing people of committing fraud and slapping them with huge fines. All of the initial notices are going to their online unemployment account called "MiWAM." They say they have no reason to check the account since they've returned to work.

Almost two weeks ago, the Problem Solvers interviewed the director of the Talent Investment Agency, Stephanie Comai. Her agency oversees the state unemployment agency. We asked her if something needs to change with the notification process.

Comai said workers can choose to "receive letters in the mail or be notified in their account online. So that's choice that the customer can make."

The Problem Solvers played a clip of Comai's interview for State Representative Roger Victory of Hudsonville. He's looking into the issues.

In the interview, Comai said, "So if somebody believes that they might have issues down the road, I would really encourage them to sign up to receive mail and to receive those notices online. So they can make sure that they're actually getting notified by the agency."

We asked Comai why someone who has gone back to work months or years after receiving benefits would think they would need to go back and check the account (if they only signed up for electronic notifications), especially when everything seemed to have gone fine.

Comai replied, "So something to remember is we, the unemployment agency is implementing state law."

In response to the clip, Victory said, "As she indicated there, you have one of two options. But is that clear upfront?"

Representative Victory believes it’s not clear. He’s followed our reporting on the topic and said he's interested in improving the notification process. The representative said he's studying the current law.

"How is that language written? Is there something that I as a legislator need to do to make sure we sure up that language?" Victory asked rhetorically.

He added, "So do we need to go to a certified letter scenario, uh, first class mail letter?"

"Would this help alleviate some of the common thread scenario of these claims coming through, and that way the people can move on with their lives from this prolong process," Victory said.​

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