Michigan House calls for acting unemployment agency director to resign

Michigan House calls for acting unemployment agency director to resign

Liza Estlund Olson has been at the helm of the troubled agency for nearly a year.

The Michigan House has asked Liza Estlund Olson to resign her position as acting director of the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency, or UIA.

The House voted 57-46 Oct. 6 in bipartisan support of her resignation.

The agency has “continuously failed to meet its obligations to the people of Michigan since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a formal statement issued by state Rep. David Martin, R-Davidson.

 The House resolution outlines some of the issues with Estlund Olson’s leadership.

“Acting Director Olson has failed to resolve the 3 problems at the UIA and is mismanaging the agency. In recent 4 months, the UIA has given benefits to ineligible recipients,” he wrote.

The resolution says that the agency sent “confusing notices to hundreds of thousands of people warning that  they owed back payments; denied benefits to deserving people; and intentionally hid information from the House Oversight Committee. Furthermore, even though 18 months have passed since the start of the Pandemic, the UIA still has 20,000 unpaid Michigan workers and only recently opened UIA offices for in-person appointments.” 

Steve Gray, the former head of Michigan’s UIA, stepped down in November 2020 amid similar complaints. Estlund Olson became acting director at that time, a position she had previously held from 2007-2008.

“The unemployment agency has been riddled with problems since Liza Estlund Olson took over as director, and she has done little to find solutions for the people the agency has failed,” said Martin.Liza Estlund Olson’s resignation is long overdue.”

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, in August asked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to remove Estlund Olson. Whitmer rejected the request, with a spokesperson characterizing it as a “partisan attack.”  

Estlund Olson recently said that those calling for her resignation need to “come walk a day in my shoes, and in everybody else who works with this agency’s shoes, who are trying to get this work done and totally and completely understand that our mission is to pay eligible claimants the benefits they are due.”  

The House is proposing other changes as well, including increased oversight and access, that would improve payment times. Some Michiganders have been left waiting on their benefits for weeks or months.

Members of Michigan’s legislature argue that they’ve given UIA long enough to improve and new measures have to be taken. “We gave them a year and a half to get their act in order, it hasn’t happened … It’s time for the Legislature to step up and fix this for the people of Michigan,” said Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland. 

Michigan’s economy was hit hard in the pandemic, leaving many Michiganders depending on their unemployment benefits to get by. They deserve a system that works.

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