The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 06, 2020

Hello? State UIA is lousy at detecting fraud, and answering calls

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING —The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) falsely accused up to 40,000 unemployed workers of making fraudulent claims from 2013 to 2015, a mess that's still being addressed in  the courts.

Now, it turns out that through last year, the UIA couldn't figure out how to properly answer its phones, either. 

A report released Feb. 25 by Michigan Auditor General Doug Ringler was a follow-up to an April 2016 state audit which made several suggestions for improvement for the agency. The new audit said that based on a sampling of 311,186 calls to the UIA from Aug. 17, 2018 through June 28, 2019 which were examined by state auditors, 66,461 calls (21 percent) were routed to the customer service queue. 

The audit found that 18,381 callers (28 percent) simply hung up on their phone call to the UIA after not getting an answer or voice mail.

And maybe the rest of the callers got the information they sought, or maybe not. For the remaining 244,725 (79 percent) of the phone calls to the state agency, the UIA "did not have data to determine whether the calls were successfully routed to one of the self-service queues, ended by the caller, or unanswered."

The Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, which now controls the UIA, responded to the latest report by saying that it had been using an older phone system during the time of the audit. In September 2019, the agency said it implemented a new phone system that includes, among other features, a chat function. "As a result, the customer wait-times and abandoned calls have dramatically improved," the agency said. 

The audits were a response to a debacle at the state Unemployment Agency during the Snyder Administration. A new, wholly computerized jobless claims processing system called MiDAS, which cost the state $47 million, was put into place to replace jobs and automate claims. Instead MiDAS accused anywhere between 20,000 and 40,000 jobless Michiganians of fraud - but with a 90 percent-plus error rate. 

Many falsely accused jobless claimants were forced into bankruptcy, had wages garnished, lost homes and cars, and had ruined credit records as a result of the fiasco. 

A class action to settle the matter is still in the courts.