The embattled State of Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency opens the week under temporary leadership. The man who tried to keep the agency on an even keel as state-ordered COVID-19 virus business closings threw hundreds of thousands out of their jobs creating huge backlogs of service and please for help has left. There was a time when Steve Gray did some good for the agency. It happened when as a legal aid attorney, he helped shine a light on agency problems that lead to some reforms. That had something to do with him being hired for the Director’s job.

But when the virus business closings put so many out of work this spring, the state agency that should have stepped up to help nearly 3 million state residents fell flat in some areas.  Legislative inquiries at first were stonewalled. Then when Gray did show up for hearings, he quite often didn’t have answers to key questions or deflected questions altogether.

Bridge Magazine reports a spokesperson for Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is describing Gray’s abrupt departure from the state as a personnel matter. The Governor, through Chief Operating Officer Trish Foster, is naming Liza Estlung Olson to at least temporarily lead the agency. She has been director of the Office of the State Employer. Marshall Republican State House member Matt Hall chairs a select legislative review committee looking into the state’s handling of the COVID issues. The unemployment agency situation has been one of the primary concerns.  Hall tells Bridge Magazine, “The agency struggled to fix issues and properly communicate with claimants under Director Gray’s watch. It seemed the agency never had a grasp on the true scope of the problem.”

Along with its own internal claims processing problems, the agency has been hit with fraudulent claims, some even involving an internal element with a former worker charged with filing false claims.  But the extent of bad actors using internet access to file false claims has not been clearly documented yet in terms of how widespread the issue has become, or the financial losses involved. Less than two weeks ago, the agency took the wraps off a new web page dashboard claimed to improve transparency about how issues are being handled by the state.

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