Michigan House Republicans
Rep. Bierlein: House should prioritize needed reforms as UIA audit wraps up
RELEASE|December 27, 2023

State Rep. Matthew Bierlein today called for action in the coming year on legislative reforms he has sponsored to ensure government programs are efficient and transparent for both people who use them and taxpayers who help fund them.

Michigan’s nonpartisan Office of the Auditor General today released its fifth and final audit of the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency – examining fraud and improper payments perpetuated by a key department within Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The audit into the Investigations Division at UIA found that between January 2020 and October 2022, the agency failed to attempt to identify a large share of imposter claims and fell short in recovering many payments and penalties. The report revealed another $245.1 million in potentially improper payments to ineligible individuals. The UIA did not identify or act to evaluate whether the payments were appropriate.

“These nonpartisan reports detail the magnitude of fraud and incompetence at the state level that we saw during this time period,” said Bierlein, of Vassar. “This cost our state billions of dollars. These failures are completely unacceptable. They ended up taking funds from real people who needed assistance from the agency during government-mandated shutdowns and taking advantage of taxpayers and job providers throughout our state.”

With the conclusion of the audits, Bierlein said the time is now to act on legislation he and other House Republicans have introduced – House Bills 4369-74 – that reform the unemployment agency, increase transparency, prevent fraud, and improve customer service for both unemployed workers seeking benefits and the employers who pay taxes into the unemployment system. Bierlein’s plan, HB 4372, creates a UIA ombudsman to provide a process for investigating issues with the agency that people have reported. The proposal gives people a layer of accountability and transparency they didn’t have previously.

“One of the biggest issues I heard about from people across our area as they dealt with UIA and tried to get unemployment benefits is that they felt response times were slow and ultimately no one was looking into problems they were encountering,” Bierlein said. “Then they were being told by someone at the agency in a legislative hearing that the agency was on top of everything. This bill would provide a direct outlet to address problems. People will know that the role of this position is specifically to advocate and work on their behalf. It will help get people benefits they deserve so they can pay bills and put food on the table for their families when they face unforeseen and trying times regarding their employment.”

Bierlein said addressing the state’s failing UIA – which had encountered problems even before the large-scale failures that arose during COVID-19 – is something that should be a bipartisan priority as the House returns in January.

“This isn’t a funding issue where we should simply go in and budget more taxpayer money to UIA and let them figure it out. This is an effectiveness issue,” Bierlein said. “We need better checks and balances in place and better fraud protection tools to ensure programs like these are working as intended for people. We have seen plenty of proof that we can do better, and plans we have put forth will help get us there.”

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