House Dems introduce second package of UIA legislation

LANSING, Mich., March 4, 2021 — House Democrats introduced a second round of legislation today as a continuation of the caucus’ Hardworking Michiganders Recovery Plan, a plan that, among other things, would extend benefits from 20 to 26 weeks.

“Once again, House Democrats are standing up on behalf of workers all across the state who are not receiving the support they need during some of their darkest days,” said state Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods), a sponsor of the bill package. “This is about helping people make ends meet during an economic crisis brought on by a global pandemic and fixing a largely broken unemployment system not just temporarily, but for good.”

“This package is not a cure-all, but between the legislation introduced over the last two weeks, we have a really solid foundation for rebuilding an unemployment structure that truly helps families get back on their feet,” said state Rep. Lori Stone (D-Warren), who sponsored a bill in the package. “There are many issues left to address, but this would be a great jumping-off point. The system as it currently exists is not working for people, and it’s up to us to make the changes they need.”

The new round of legislation consists of nine bills, proposing measures that include:

  • Increasing due process requirements of the UIA to require in-person or telephone appeals hearings, ensuring those falsely accused of fraud have the opportunity to be heard.
  • Requiring all correspondence from the UIA to be in “plain language”, defined in the bill as the reading level you could expect of a 4th
  • Lowering wage garnishment from 50% to 20% for an individual required to repay benefits they were mistakenly paid.
  • Allowing for unemployment benefits to be deducted from adjusted gross income, easing the tax liability for individuals on unemployment.
  • Increasing the hardship waiver to 200% of the federal poverty level, excluding $20,000 in cash assets from the calculation.
  • Extending the statute of limitations to six years on claims brought by individuals improperly accused of fraud between Jan. 1, 2007, and Dec. 31 2016.
  • Ensuring the UIA reimbursed all individuals erroneously accused of fraud by the faulty MIDAS computer system.
  • Requiring state agencies to help individuals restore their credit when their private information is compromised due to security breaches of state operated database systems.
  • Requiring the UIA to contract to have an audit done on their computer system’s algorithms and logic formulas.

One bill in the package would lower the amount of wage garnishment from 50% to 20% for an individual who is required to repay benefits they were ‘not entitled to receive’, an issue that often comes as a surprise bill for Michigan residents, and can put those receiving assistance in an even worse position than before they began receiving benefits.

“A 50 percent wage garnishment to rectify what was likely a mistake by the UIA, itself, is completely inappropriate and only pushes families deeper into an already bad situation,” said state Rep. Tim Sneller (D-Burton), one of the package sponsors. “My bill lowers that percentage to a much more manageable number, bringing it closer to the numbers we see in other wage garnishment proceedings.”

The package would also take steps to address continued fallout from the UIA’s faulty fraud accusations, which left thousands of Michiganders in financial ruin.

“These hard working people have together accrued millions in fees and penalties after doing absolutely nothing wrong, and each one of them deserves the opportunity to be made whole,” said state Rep. Bill Sowerby (D-Clinton Twp.), who sponsored a bill in the package. “My bill extending the statute of limitations on these cases will empower those who have not yet done so to bring legal action and receive the compensation they are owed.”

“The UIA computer system has been making decisions regarding who is eligible or ineligible, qualified or disqualified for benefits for nearly a decade without any oversight and it has repeatedly made mistakes, including falsely accusing people of fraud.” said state Rep. John Cherry (D-Flint), who sponsored a bill in the package. “This has cost unemployed individuals hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars and has even resulted in some losing their homes. My bills require a full examination of this system and put into place due process safeguards for those accused of fraud.”

House Democrats continue their call for legislative Republicans to pass the package, which has received bipartisan support.