UIA Director Steve Gray

Former Unemployment Insurance Agency Director Steve Gray testifies in front of the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic on June 24. 

(The Center Square) – On her eighth day on the job, Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) Director Julia Dale told the House Oversight Committee she’s ready to tackle big problems that have plagued her 11 UIA director predecessors over the past 10 years.

Dale laid out three goals:

  1. Strengthen existing networks
  2. Implement a higher level of customer care
  3. Train, develop, and retain top talent

Dale said the UIA kicked off an effort to upgrade the agency's 10-year-old legacy operating system. The UIA is working with the Detroit-based nonprofit Civilla to improve customer experience as well as rewrite the agency's jargon as plain language to alleviate customer confusion.

“We are committed to reducing our case backlog, tackling fraud and abuse,” Dale said. “We are also committed to being good stewards of taxpayer money that funds our benefit programs and is supported by charges on businesses.”

Dale said she set “high expectations” and a goal for excellence for the UIA.

Prior UIA leadership saw record claims since 2020, but let Michiganders wait for months in the dark while it knowingly disbursed fraudulent claims to people who assumed names of such celebrities as Kylie Jenner.

Rep. Stephanie Young, D-Detroit, asked Dale to provide Michiganders with clear expectations for when claims will be resolved. She said her staffers are still working with constituents who have waited on a claim for longer than six months.

“How do people get stuck in limbo for eight months?” Young asked.

Former UIA Director Steve Gray witnessed Michigan’s unemployment rate spike to 22.7% after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shuttered much of the economy to slow the spread of COVID-19. Gray resigned on Nov. 5, 2020, and took with him a then-secret $85,872 severance deal as well as a confidentiality agreement amid months of record jobless claims. More than a year later, in August 2021, college students testified that despite initial confirmation of benefits, the UIA retroactively billed them as much as $50,000 for reimbursement claims. Another lawyer said the UIA hasn’t paid a client in over 500 days.

Despite the federal government warning the UIA twice about its lax jobless aid qualification, the UIA failed to fix the questions that led to nearly 700,000 Michiganders being asked to recertify for benefits. 

Since March 15, 2020, the UIA has paid out $39 billion to 3.4 million claimants.

Dale said she plans to review the workflow process to find areas for improvement. She said the UIA has implemented an open-door policy for employees to share problems.

“UIA, like any state agency or department, won’t change overnight,” Dale said. “But I have confidence in the abilities of my staff. They have the opportunity to be effective changemakers if they are given the tools and power to achieve great things.”

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.