Runestad joins call for UIA leadership change

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Jim Runestad on Friday echoed The Detroit News Editorial Board and other state leaders calling for changes in leadership and culture at Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency.

“I have been working hard to make a difference for the people of my district who have been negatively affected by the continued negligence and utter incompetence of the UIA,” said Runestad, R-White Lake.

Despite resistance from the agency, Runestad’s office reports helping more than 1,400 local constitutes get needed help navigating the UIA. Additionally, the senator has voted to allocate millions of dollars to the agency on behalf of a record number of Michigan residents who found themselves in need of unemployment benefits through no fault of their own.

“The pattern of mismanagement of the UIA has only been magnified over the past year and a half during the coronavirus pandemic,” Runestad said. “It is beyond time for the governor to make a change in leadership at the UIA and make a positive difference for all Michigan residents who continually find themselves adversely impacted by that agency.”

Last week, House Speaker Jason Wentworth called on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to fire UIA Acting Director Liza Estlund Olson.

The House Oversight Committee is investigating the agency after learning it took from Jan. 6 until June to notify hundreds of thousands of unemployment recipients they may have to pay the money back to the state after U.S. Department of Labor officials told UIA leaders that the agency’s criteria for awarding pandemic unemployment assistance for self-employed, part-time and gig workers was not in line with national guidelines.

“The dysfunction in Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency goes back decades, but has rarely been more clearly on display than during the pandemic lockdowns, when jobless services were needed the most,” The Detroit News Editorial Board wrote today.

“It was indefensible when, in late June, the UIA demanded residents pay for mistakes it made to allow those who lost their jobs to collect federal unemployment benefits.

“But it’s utterly reprehensible that agency leadership knew about the mistake for six months for while continuing to pay almost 600,000 aid recipients without ever alerting them they may be required to pay it back.”

Runestad said, “It is time for the governor to take action and then work with the Legislature to investigate the UIA and fix this vital office for the good of Michigan residents who find themselves in need of its services.”

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