GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - The State of Michigan plans to close a Grand Rapids unemployment office where appeals to benefit rulings are heard. People, either the unemployed or their employer, will now have to travel to Lansing for an in-person hearing, or do it over the phone.
"It's an efficiency move more than anything," said Mike Zimmer, the Executive Director of the Michigan Administrative Hearing System.
Zimmer said cuts in funding combined with the desire to go to teleconference appeal hearings is driving the move. However, advocates contend the in-person hearings are pivotal for both parties, employer and employee, to make their case in a convincing way.
State Rep. Brandon Dillon of Grand Rapids says he hopes to convince the state to change its mind.
"Sometimes you have to be in-person to be able to get the true flavor of what's going on with someone's particular circumstances and to drive to Lansing with gas at $4/gallon can be a hardship for people," Dillon said Thursday.
Dillon said the office, located at 2922 Fuller Ave. NE, serves about 3,500 cases a year-- people and employers from across all of West Michigan. A similar office in Kalamazoo closed a few years ago. The state also plans to close its unemployment administrative law hearing office in Flint, as well as its workers compensation office there.
Four administrative law judges and three staffers will have their jobs transferred to Lansing.
Zimmer says offices will remain open in Traverse City, Lansing, Detroit, and Novi. However, he said that Michigan is in the minority of states to not offer appeals hearings via telephone and does plan to move in that direction.
"We hope to transition to a majority of phone hearings status statewide, which will alleviate the need for some of these district offices," Zimmer said.
Karen Cook-Parrott of Grand Rapids recently had a hearing where the administrative law judge agreed she was entitled to receive unemployment benefits after being fired from her job in March. The unemployment office had already ruled in her favor several times she said, but her employer persisted, and lost in the hearing where her firing was reenacted in front of an administrative law judge.
"I'm not quite sure how it ever would have been resolved in a phone conversation because of the way it all played out-- the back and forth of the judge and both of the advocates," Cook-Parrott said.