LANSING, MICH. - Leaders at the embattled Unemployment Insurance Agency in Michigan announced Wednesday they are reassigning close to two dozen managers to try to improve customer service in the field.
The state's Talent Investment Agency oversees the UIA. The TIA's director Wanda Stokes says the changes are being made "to expand the number of experienced people working in the field directly with its customers." Most of the moves we are told involve Workforce Development Agency employees.
“TIA plays a vitally important role in building a talented workforce that will help Michigan’s economy continue to grow stronger,” Stokes said. “Residents turn to TIA programs during the difficult time between jobs and to gain training for new careers. Employers reach out to us to help them find people with in-demand skills to fill openings that will allow them to grow and create even more jobs. Our new structure will help the agency better carry out those tasks while putting our customers first.”
Stokes told the 13 Watchdog team back in January she was going to do a "top to bottom" review of the agency. She reassigned former UIA director Sharon Moffett-Massey and intends to hire a new leader over the next couple of months.
The restructuring is expected to affect 21 management positions and other positions may be affected as employees exercise seniority rights. UIA spokesman Dave Murray said the agency will be doing more moving and bumping of employees, rather than letting people go. He says there is a chance the same number of people will be employed by the UIA when the process is complete.
One of the big changes that's already happened is the promise by the UIA to have staff members actually looking at determinations made on unemployment claims, rather than relying solely on computer software which is what had been happening over the last couple of years.
"What we have learned is that you need the individual to review because our talented staff are trained properly and they can review those claims," Stokes said. "They are the best ones to determine fraud."
Before the recent changes, the state's automated computer system made fraud determinations on thousands of cases with little to no input from the claimants or even state employees. Some of the claimants were never notified there was a problem in the system and were eventually found to have committed fraud even if they weren't aware they were under investigation.
The state's Auditor General recently indicated the state's UIA did not do enough to contact people who had claims that were questioned.
The Auditor General also found the UIA's customer service was abysmal. At times customer service representatives took about 10% of all calls into the agency.
The Unemployment Insurance Agency recently indicated it reviewed more than 20,000 fraud cases and more than 90 percent of them had been overturned in favor of the claimant. Millions of dollars are expected to be returned because of that suggesting all of these changes needed to be made.
The lead attorney on the lawsuits, Jennifer Lord of Pitt McGehee Palmer and Rivers, says there are approximately 60,000 people as part of the class action lawsuits against the UIA. Many of those claimants were the ones complaining that money was wrongly confiscated through the garnishment process. They are now having to wait through a lengthy court process to get their money back.
"It was not (the state's) money to take," Lord said.
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