LANSING, Mich. — The newly appointed director of Michigan’s embattled Unemployment Insurance Agency vowed to “right the ship” while comparing fixing the agency’s problems to the docking of the S.S. Badger, a large ferry that travels between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
“You watch this massive ship make a multi-point turn, very slowly, just to get in to be able to dock. That’s where we are with UIA,” said Julia Dale.
“It’s a large organization that has faced challenges for many years; Change is possible,” says Dale. “It is going to take time; it is going to take resources,” she added, while addressing lawmakers Tuesday.
Michigan’s House and Senate Oversight Committees held a joint hearing, two weeks after an audit found the UIA was “not effective” in its rollout of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and overpaid nearly $4 billion in ineligible claims.
“If the $3.9 billion is accurate, we believe it’s likely that there are some folks who are still deemed to be eligible who had overpayments as well, but we don’t know the extent,” said Brian Weiler, chief investigator with the Office of the Auditor General.
The OAG will have two additional reports in the coming months, as well as recommendations on where the UIA should improve, something Dale says they are working to do.
The agency will not have to pay back the U.S. Department of Labor for the overpayments, and will not be able to recoup the money from those who received it due to the error.
“We are using the findings to evaluate how we operate, which ultimately means doing a better job in stopping fraud and paying legitimate claims in a timely fashion,” Dale explained.
Dale, the agency’s third director in the past year and half and the 11th in a decade, faced tough questions from lawmakers who wondered why they should believe anything with the agency will change.
“What you said all sounds great, all sounds wonderful, but we’ve been through this; this is the 5th hearing this committee has had on UIA this year and yet there is never any accountability,” said House Oversight Chair Rep. Steve Johnson (R–Wayland).
“You’re telling me it’s going to stop with you, that’s great. But how do we know that these people, this culture that says it’s okay to just spend $600 incorrectly because it’s not a big deal, how do we know these people aren’t still there?” questioned Senate Oversight Chair Sen. Ed McBroom (R–Vulcan).
“Even if those people are still there, they know those decisions don’t get made without my approval,” Dale answered.
Dale also highlighted changes she’s already made to add staff resources and improve department communication, transparency and accountability in the few weeks she’s been at the helm. Vowing to right the ship (or ferry) that has struggled for a while.
“I wouldn’t join the organization as its leader if I didn’t think I could make a difference and we couldn’t turn it around,” said Dale. “I wouldn’t do it.”
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