LANSING, Mich. -- States receive millions of dollars each year from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to help fund their unemployment programs. Every three months, states also receive what can best be described as a "bonus" based on how busy they are. It's called "above-base earnings."
Given the hike in fraud claims doled out by the new computer system at the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA), it appears the state has been very busy.
In the first quarter of 2015, data from the DOL shows all 50 states received a total of $29 million combined. That may not sound like much, but Michigan accounted for $10.9 million of that amount, more than one-third of the total. The next closest state was California, with nearly four times the population as Michigan but only just above $3 million of above-base earnings.
According to Fast Enterprises, one of the companies that created the MiDAS computer program for the state, Michigan’s workload jumped 105% in just one year, from 2012 to 2013.
According to the DOL, many factors count toward a state's workload, including "determinations," the paperwork received by people who have filed for benefits. Those determinations can be received in the U.S. mail and also electronically through the online MiWAM portal.
In June, unemployment advocate Steve Gray said, one determination should be enough. "For example, we just had a case today, in fact, where I got in the mail 30 separate determinations for one claimant," Gray said. "[It was] a stack of determinations, and they related to basically the same thing."
Gray said the higher a state's workload, the more federal dollars it receives. Given the Problem Solvers investigation into the agency's increased fraud claims against citizens who say they've done nothing wrong and all of the cases the agency brought under review during our investigation, we wanted to know if the numbers are padded.
In early August, the Problem Solvers sat down with the director of the Talent Investment Agency, which oversees the UIA. FOX 17 asked Stephanie Comai about the federal data and if a number of determinations were issued in error is the state, therefore, receiving federal dollars it doesn't deserve?
"I really can't speak to what the federal government, how they're going to interpret our data," Comai said. "We share the data with them. They make determinations based on that data about the funding level the state receives. So, that question probably is better directed to the U.S. Department of Labor."
We asked the Department of Labor, and it took several weeks to get this response:
"The U.S. Department of Labor and Michigan are currently working together to address workload reporting issues stemming from its new IT system that impact above base funding." - Scott Allen, Regional Director of Public Affairs
Problem Solvers recently obtained another email from late April through a public records request. It shows state executives were told the "Unemployment Agency's above base is currently under review by the USDOL because of the large increase in non-monetary determinations."
Problem Solvers brought this data to Congressmen Justin Amash and Bill Huizenga's attention. Both of their staffs said they're looking into it.
The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency said Tuesday the second and third quarter above-base earnings are under review by the U.S. Department of Labor.