Injustice at the Hands of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA)
By Jonna F.
March 17, 2016
Upon losing my job in July 2014, I promptly filed for unemployment benefits with the State of Michigan. I received my unemployment without incident. As required, I logged into the site every week and certified my benefits, answering a handful of questions about my weekly status (Was I looking for employment? etc.).
My unemployment benefits were direct-deposited into my account bi-weekly during my unemployment (July, 2014 thru November, 2014). In November 2014, I secured full-time employment and reported this to UIA. I received no benefits after this point.
After months of working, and seeing absolutely no need to login to my MiWAM (the UIA website for unemployment benefits claimants) account, I was unaware that I had been receiving “notifications” from UIA since April 2015, months after my final benefit payment. These notifications were “fact-finding questionnaires.” Apparently, not responding to these brief questionnaires led to a “determination” that I did not qualify for the unemployment benefit that was paid to me during the period in which I was legitimately unemployed. (July-November 2014).
Sure, I could protest the determination and I had 30 days to so. The problem? I did not know these notifications were sitting in cyberspace on the state’s website. I never received anything in the mail stating that I was under any kind of deadline.
In June 2015, I received snail mail correspondence from the UIA. Imagine my surprise when I opened it to find a final determination/statement for payment due in the amount of $20,890.
I discovered the UIA determined I had received an overpayment of benefits due to “fraudulent misrepresentation.” The amount owed was four times the claimed overpayment, plus penalties and interest which continue to accumulate.
Many things ran through my mind. Surely it was a mistake on the State of Michigan’s part. Or maybe this has something to do with the course of events of the company I worked for — which had gone bankrupt under legal scrutiny. Furthermore, I found it disturbing and offensive that I was being accused of misrepresentation.
I subsequently logged on to the MiWAM site and was further surprised to find the aforementioned notifications from the state. I quickly found an option to appeal and promptly submitted my appeal via the website. I logged in often from this point forward and was ultimately denied appeal. I filed another appeal, to no avail. There was yet another appeal/protest filed to the state. (I wasn’t giving up!)
In December 2015, after protests/appeals and hours upon hours on the phone, I was granted a telephone, conference-style hearing with a judge. Neither the state nor my former employer dialed-in or attended the hearing, leaving me to testify under oath and plead my case to the judge.
I was asked why I did not appeal in a timely manner. I testified that I did not receive notifications from the state via mail and I had not logged into my MiWAM account.
I was then asked a series of questions about the dates of my unemployment and subsequent gainful employment. Within 10 days of the hearing, I was thrilled to receive a letter from the state with the judge’s determination that I was not liable for restitution to the state.
Soon after the hearing in December 2015, I received yet another statement for my total due to the state for over $20,000. (By the way, this type of correspondence does come by snail mail and on a regular, monthly basis.) I promptly, and confidently, logged onto the MiWAM site and uploaded my official letter from the judge, which provided an order that the agency’s adjudication is reversed and denied restitution.
In response to this documentation, I received a MiWAM notification that the court documents were referring to a separate case and there were two additional cases pending!
After scouring the convoluted mess of notifications from the state, I finally came to the realization that there were three separate case numbers on one claim number. All of them implied misrepresentation for three different periods of weeks during the time that I was legitimately unemployed. The State of Michigan still maintains I owe them over $20,000 for fraudulent misrepresentation, penalties and interest.
Naturally, I followed the appeal process for the newly discovered cases. This time I was not appealing due to my ignorance of the 30-day response window, but due to my finding of three separate case numbers buried on the site, all of which needed independent action. I was denied. I appealed once more. I was denied again.
This brings me to today. I feel I’m out of options to handle this situation on my own. I did Internet research to determine what recourse I may have. I discovered that I am only one of potentially thousands that are in my exact situation; facing nearly identical UIA accusations and huge fines and penalties.
There have been several class action lawsuits filed against the state for UIA’s unfair practices and there is state legislation pending that would enable honest Michigan residents to fight such charges and fees fairly.
I also discovered that in 2013 the State of Michigan instituted a new computer system called MiDAS (Michigan Integrated Data Automated System) which has failed miserably. It was reported in February 2016 that 92 percent of those audited by MiDAS and accused of defrauding the state are, in fact, innocent of wrong doing.
Furthermore, people with some influence are asking if the State of Michigan knowingly accused unemployment recipients of defrauding the UIA, with the hope that many would do nothing to fight for their rights.
Additionally, there is an investigation into the role that Gov. Synder may have played in this practice. To my knowledge, Gov. Synder has refused to address the issue of the MiDAS discrepancies. Consequently, the state has been able to continue collecting millions of dollars in “restitution” via payments, garnishments and tax levies.
I married in October 2015. My new husband is now subjected to this farce, as our joint tax refund was levied and applied to this bogus debt to our great State of Michigan.
Recently published news reports have detailed numerous UIA horror stories just like mine. Many were reported by a great champion of the cause Darren Cunningham, an investigative reporter with Fox 17 News in Grand Rapids.
I have found Facebook posts from people around the entire state struggling to understand why they are losing their tax refunds and facing wage garnishments.
I also discovered that there are federal lawsuits pending against the State of Michigan regarding these UIA practices.
There are countless stories of people “paying-up,” not even understanding they had any avenue of recourse. I can only surmise there are all kinds of people affected by this “glitch” in UIA’s computer system, including a population of low-income, honest folks who may not have the resources or the voice to fight this injustice.
At the end of the day, I am stuck with a long battle to fight my alleged debt to the state and seek the return of my seized tax refund. Should I ever see this refund back in my hands, as it justly belongs, will it include a 400 percent penalty and interest owed to me by my state?