Today, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson joined state Reps. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township) and Stephanie Young (D-Detroit) to announce legislation they introduced to increase the Department of State’s capacity to serve customers at its branch offices.
The bills would address a severe reduction of staff in previous decades and a backlog of transactions that need to be done following extensions of credential expirations throughout the pandemic.
“The path forward is clear: increase the number of appointments available so that they are abundant and easy to schedule and reduce the need for residents to visit our offices at all,” said Benson. “Representatives Brixie and Young propose a much-needed investment in our infrastructure that adds half a million appointments between now and October. This would eliminate the backlog and free up advance and next-day appointments to be available on demand, getting us closer to a point where the supply of in-person transactions our offices can provide meets the needs of our residents.”
House Bill 4946, introduced by Rep. Young, would provide overtime funding to allow the Department of State to extend hours of operation at all 130 branch locations, providing 210,000 new appointments between now and Sept. 30.
House Bill 4947, introduced by Rep. Brixie, would provide funding to increase staff at all Secretary of State branches, enabling 290,000 new appointments between now and Sept. 30.
“Republican leadership caused a completely unprecedented demand for conducting business with the Secretary of State by requiring over a year’s worth of business to be conducted overnight after ending the deadline extension for renewals,” said Brixie. “They knew this wasn’t remotely feasible because the Department of State’s capacity has been cut by nearly half in recent decades. Our bills would use federal COVID funds to fix this problem by giving Secretary Benson the resources she needs to expand branch hours and clear the current backlog of transactions.”
“We are still emerging from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, and the Department of State was not immune to the challenges it brought,” said Young. “My goal is to help level-set the branch services as quickly as possible by helping the Secretary of State provide more access and more appointments through increased funding. I am hopeful my Republican colleagues will understand that without more funding, we continue to add to residents’ frustrations by ignoring the root of the issue.”
In recent decades, disinvestment and other rollbacks at the Department of State cut offices by 46 percent and staff by 40 percent. Meanwhile, the state’s population grew 10 percent and the number of vehicles in Michigan increased 25 percent, leading to office wait times tripling from 2011 to 2018 to an average of nearly two hours at the ten busiest offices.
In 2020, these challenges were exacerbated by the pandemic, with exposures to the virus forcing staff to stay home and offices to close. The end of the state Legislature’s expiration extensions on March 31, 2021, created a backlog of resident transactions all due at the same time.
In the last two years, the Department of State increased the number of transactions that can be done without an office visit and replaced all self-service stations with nearly 150 new ones, many of which are in Kroger and Meijer grocery stores. These changes cut the share of transactions that are carried out in branch offices from 74 percent down to 40 percent.
Since the department began servicing customers in office by appointment only, residents are typically able to complete transactions in 20 minutes total, with virtually no wait time as most customers are seen right at their appointment time. Next-day appointments are released online at Michigan.gov/SOS every day at 8 a.m. and noon. Those without access to or comfort with the internet can call 888-SOS-MICH and press 2 to speak with someone who can help book an appointment.
Most Secretary of State transactions, including registrations and licenses renewals, can be completed online at Michigan.gov/SOS, by mail, or at self-service stations located throughout the state.
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