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Michigan's House Oversight Committee is opening an investigation into the state's beleaguered Unemployment Insurance Agency.
Steve Johnson, the chairman of the panel, announced plans for hearings and more on Wednesday, weeks after the department sent letters informing 648,100 pandemic unemployment assistance claimants they would need to submit new self-attestations due to state-developed qualifications later rejected by the U.S. Department of Labor, according to the Detroit News.
"The UIA is a disaster and there needs to be leadership changes now," Johnson said in a statement. "How about before asking people to pay funds back due to the state’s mistake, they ask former director Steve Gray to pay back his $86,000 hush fund payment."
The UIA vowed to comply with all requests from the Michigan House in an email to the Washington Examiner.
"The Agency will continue to provide all information requested by the House Oversight committee and work with lawmakers to ensure the Unemployment Insurance system is effective and efficient for Michigan workers," Lynda Robinson, a representative for the UIA, wrote in an email to the Washington Examiner.
Earlier on Wednesday, the UIA released instructions for Michiganders who want to apply to requalify for benefits, instructing them to fill out forms proving eligibility under the new guidelines or to contact the UIA directly.
"We're doing everything we can to help working families navigate this issue. Claimants who were notified that they must requalify for PUA should quickly submit their updated information so that we can redetermine their eligibility and continue to provide benefits to workers whose jobs were affected by COVID-19," said acting UIA Director Liza Estlund Olson. "The agency will evaluate each requalification on a case-by-case basis, and we are currently reviewing a waiver process."
Steven Gray, the former director of the agency, stepped down in November, receiving an $85,872 separation agreement that required he and the state "maintain confidentiality" regarding his employment and his departure.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, tasked with appointing the UIA's leader, said Gray's resignation was a positive development.
"It's an agency, of course, that's been under extreme stress," Whitmer said in early November, according to the Detroit Free Press. "We did a lot of good work. We are continuing to evolve, and, certainly, I think there’s an opportunity here to take the agency forward in a different way, and I think it's going to be a good thing."
Johnson, a Republican, has been a thorn in Whitmer's side in recent months.
Last Wednesday, it was reported that Michigan's auditor general would investigate COVID-19 deaths in the state's nursing homes following Johnson's June request the Office of Auditor General undertakes a "comprehensive study of reported and unreported deaths in long-term care facilities."
"I am confident that the auditor general will provide us with a more accurate picture of the deadly results of Gov. Whitmer's decision to place COVID positive patients in long-term care facilities," Johnson said.
In May, the state lawmaker called for an inquiry into the financial arrangements behind Whitmer's visit to her father if her administration did not sufficiently respond to a letter Johnson sent in late May.
"We will be issuing a letter to Governor Whitmer with specific questions related to her junket to Florida. Based off the response we receive, the Oversight Committee will consider doing hearings on this scandal," Johnson wrote in an email to the Washington Examiner on May 18. "The people of Michigan deserve answers on what the Governor is trying to hide and why."
The Michigan GOP filed a complaint in June with the state's Bureau of Elections over Whitmer's private plane use.
Whitmer also faced controversy after it was reported multiple aides traveled out of state last month despite April 5 guidelines warning would-be travelers that "travel increases your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19."
In addition, the governor attracted scrutiny when she was photographed at the Landshark Bar & Grill in East Lansing on May 22 alongside several others not wearing masks and with their tables pushed close together, an arrangement that violated the May 15 order from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services mandating all parties be separated by 6 feet, which was in effect at the time.
Whitmer apologized, saying she "made a mistake," and the bar was not cited.
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Original Author: Carly Roman
Original Location: Michigan House panel investigating 'disaster' unemployment agency