MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — A Muskegon County artist has waited more than 10 months for her unemployment payments.
She shut down her business after the state forced her to close last spring.
It’s hard enough filing for benefits when you’ve never had to before, but even more tough when you don’t have cell service or the internet.
A family member stepped into help, but they’re still getting conflicting answers from the UIA.
Paula Johnson’s garage is now full of her art supplies. All of them ended up at her property in rural Muskegon County.
“It’s just been a nightmare. It’s been a real nightmare, it really has,” she said.
From paint brushes and canvases to clay pieces and a potter’s wheel, Johnson had no idea her barn would soon become a storage unit for her business.
“My kiln is back in here somewhere; it’s like, this is ridiculous,” she told me while showing me around her barn.
Paula had about 1,200 square feet of studio space in Norton Shores, running the “Lakeshore School of Fine Arts”for more than 30 years.
She taught art to those in the community, including those with special needs like autism, blindness or other physical and mental disabilities.
“I really don’t know what to do anymore,” she said. “I really want to get back to work. I’m going crazy not being able to work.”
When the state issued executive orders last spring, Paula could not operate. That meant no more classes, no more students, and no more money.
With no funds to pay her rent, Paula had to close. That’s when she filed for unemployment.
“Even though they send me paperwork telling me I’m eligible, they’re not putting money in my account,” said Johnson.
Paula lives on 30 acres, and the family is pretty self-sufficient out there.
Paula’s husband hunts on the land; they have chickens, fruit trees, and grow and can their own food.
But they do not have cell service, a computer or the internet. Only a landline.
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“And so, I helped her apply. I called her on the phone, I put her on speakerphone and walked through all the steps, and asked her questions to input everything,” said nephew Nicholas Hadley.
Hadley would make sure his aunt emailed him the documents whenever she was in town around cell service.
She received benefits until July, but then the ID verification button popped up on her account.
“We were asked to mail stuff in, we were asked to fax stuff in, we were asked to submit it through the MIWAM messenger, we were asked to submit it through the MIWAM portal—all these different ways to submit it,” he said.
“There’s my certified mail receipts right there,” said Johnson as she showed us her kitchen table full of UIA documents.
She told us she submitted her proof of wages several times.
Nicholas also emailed the agency on MIWAM and sent along a letter from his aunt.
Any time they connected with someone on the 877 phone line, they ended the call even more confused.
“We talk to different people and they don’t know what they’re talking about. I swear they don’t know what they’re talking about,” she said. “We do send them ID, we do send them this, we do send them that, over and over and over again repeatedly through email, through fax, through certified mail.”
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Paula’s business is still closed, and she’s unable to file for the extension until her account gets figured out. She’s now waiting on what should be ten months of benefits.
“But the savings is now extremely depleted;, we could really use some unemployment money to come through right now because I’ve been trying to reopen my business,” she said.
Paula looked at a couple new properties recently.
She really wants to get into a new space to help her students get the art therapy they really need.
We did reach out to the UIA who is now looking into her case.