News Story

Michigan unemployment agency gets nearly $7M from feds, for equity’s sake

If "equity is a goal" of state unemployment system, it should be a budget priority

Michigan’s unemployment system struggled when its sound functioning was needed most: in 2020, when much of the state was on unemployment, by order of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

According to one audit, Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency “received 77 times more claims that it did in an average week before the pandemic” during the peak of its troubles.

Misspending soon followed — $8.5 billion worth, according to a December 2021 report in The Center Square..

Despite all the money flowing through the system, Michigan's unemployment agency still struggles to achieve equity, in its own estimation.

So the federal government has stepped in with a nearly $7 million grant, given to increase equitable access in urban and rural areas and among non-English speakers. Specifically, $6,779,261. The funds come through the American Rescue Plan Act.

"Equity is a goal of UIA – we want our services to be accessible to everyone in Michigan who needs them," said Nick Assendelft, spokesman for Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency, in a statement to CapCon. 

Assendelft said the agency would use the funds "to collect data to inform future strategies, provide support for those who are new to filing for benefits, broaden language translation services, and expand community outreach across Michigan."

Michigan was one of 25 states to receive the federal grant funds.

The unemployment agency says the federal grant “will fund comprehensive data collection to inform future strategies, orientations for those who are new to filing for benefits, broadening language translation services, and expanding community outreach throughout Michigan.”

Julia Dale, director of Michigan's unemployment agency, told Gongwer that “navigating the benefits application can be difficult.”

Dale said that its difficulty “has prevented some Michiganders from seeking benefits at a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable to personal financial hardship.”

Michigan's unemployment system is not known for its user-friendliness. Dale was appointed in October 2021 and inherited a "decade-old computer system," as Assendelft described it. No doubt upgrades were needed. 

But why did it take a federal grant to address a known problem? Michigan's 2022 budget is $76 billion. If the grant had not been awarded, would Michigan's unemployment system have gone on being unequitable?

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.