Michigan unemployment claim system under fire
July 9, 2020
By P.J. GLISSON
Wakefield TOWNSHIP — An aide for Rep. Greg Markkanen, R-Hancock, visited the Tuesday evening meeting of the Wakefield Township Board of Trustees and quickly heard complaints regarding delayed processing of unemployment claims.
“We’re just making our way around and wanted to know if you have any concerns,” said Justin Kasieta, one of Markkanen’s aides, after being introduced by supervisor John Cox, who also chairs the board.
The criticism of the state unemployment office — which also has occurred in other states after COVID-19 closed many operations down — immediately became the topic of a lively discussion.
Board members were meeting in the township hall for the first time since April 7. They had voted at that time to cancel their May and June meetings due to the global pandemic.
Kasieta faced board questions regarding why some persons in this region and elsewhere are having such a hard time getting cooperation from the state in relation to unemployment benefits.
Trustee Jerry Niemi said several of his family members have had trouble resolving their unemployment claims.
“My wife had a terrible time trying to talk to anybody,” he said, adding that she “tried for weeks and weeks and weeks” before finally achieving success.
Kasieta said thousands of complaints have been registered and that state legislators now are investigating the situation.
“Part of the reason is it’s overloaded,” said Kasieta of Michigan’s computer system.
The supervisor said his own experience with state computers has led him to conclude that the products used are “garbage.”
Cox added of state officials, “They buy cheap and weep.” He said the situation is a prime example of “what a low bid does to you.”
The supervisor speculated that the state’s computer systems — about which frustration has been registered from various schools and public offices — are “not made for a wealth of information.”
At a recent meeting of the Gogebic County Chapter of the Michigan Townships Association in Ironwood, Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, also told those members that state computers are an obstacle in processing unemployment claims efficiently.
Regarding the issue, Kasieta later told the Daily Globe, “We have not pinpointed the exact problem yet.”
He said that no end date is yet in sight for the state investigation, but he encouraged anyone having trouble registering for benefits to call Markkanen’s office at 517-373-0850 or to contact him by email at [email protected]
In other business, board members voted unanimously to pass a grand total of 4.4803 as a combined township and Gogebic County millage.
According to Assessor Melissa Prisbe during a related public hearing just prior to the meeting, the adjustment up from what would have been a 4.63 millage was necessary in order to “put the rate of inflation back in the formula.”
There were no public comments during the hearing, and such adjustments are a routine procedure in relation to the state’s “truth in taxation” ruling that dates back to 1982.
The board also:
—Learned from Cox that he will recommend appointments for various township boards and committees in September. Board members then will vote to approve those suggestions. Anyone interested in serving the township should call 906-224-3721 or email Cox at [email protected]
—Heard a summary from Clerk Mandy Lake regarding the status of annual clean-ups held or cancelled by other city and township governments. The supervisor concluded that the township still may consider scheduling an annual cleanup for the fall, but perhaps for only one day instead of the usual two days.
—Learned from the supervisor that progress is continuing toward the construction of an internet tower next to the township hall. “Hopefully, we’ll have internet here in the next month or two,” said Cox of the township’s financial collaboration with GogebicRange.net. The end product is expected to expand internet service within the township.
—Heard a summary of township road projects from the supervisor, who said grinding and graveling will occur on Planter Road next week, followed by paving the following week.
After the regular meeting, board members convened a separate election meeting, during which they voted to hire several assistants to help with pending elections.
The township’s primary election will be on Aug. 4. A special election for the planning commission will be on Aug. 11. The national election will be on Nov. 3. The Wakefield Township hall is the election site.
In the township’s July newsletter, Cox reported that he, treasurer Joan Dalman and trustee Jim Spencer will not run again for a seat on the board.
Cox stated that the following persons are running unopposed: Mandy Lake for supervisor, Jennifer Ahonen for clerk, and Denice Laessig for treasurer. Incumbent Gerald Niemi will compete with Robert Drier and Michael Heikkila for two trustee positions.
“We are fortunate to have such excellent candidates for these positions,” wrote Cox.
Although board meetings normally fall on the first Tuesday of each month, the next regular meeting will be on Aug. 5 at 5:30 p.m., which is a Wednesday at the township hall. Social distancing will be enforced.