UIA, Lawmakers Urged To Reinstate Work Search Requirement
May 4, 2021
After hearing business owners urge lawmakers to reinstate work search requirements for the unemployed to get benefits, the House Oversight Committee also heard the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) say it is ready to reinstate those requirements by the end of May.
“We are actively working to reinstate work search,” Stephanie Glidden, chief of staff at UIA, told the committee Tuesday evening. “That is very important to lay out there clearly. The plan currently is to have it established and re-up and running by the end of May. We hope for it to be a bit sooner, but the end of May right now is what our technology vendors have worked with us to get to a point where our phone systems are able to handle people who are certifying over the phone, able to report their work search.”
But UIA offices remain closed statewide, as do Michigan Works offices where jobseekers can get training and help with employment applications. Glidden said no date has been set for reopening UIA offices.
“They remain closed at this time, as you guys know, as we continue to look out for the health and safety of our workers,” Glidden said.
Beyond COVID, Glidden said the doors of one office had been vandalized. Besides, UIA workers can do “triple the amount of work” remotely that they could do when in the office, she said.
That brought pushback from Oversight Chair Steven Johnson (R-Wayland), who asked if Glidden knew the vaccination status of UIA employees. She said she did not. Although privacy laws would prevent UIA from asking its employees if they were vaccinated, Johnson maintained it could ask if they had had an opportunity to be vaccinated.
“I think your arguments of staying closed are pretty weak,” Johnson said, “and you should know what percentage have not been offered the vaccine because once you are at zero percent who haven’t had the opportunity, I really don’t think you have an excuse at that point.”
Wendy Block, of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, laid out the case for reinstating work search and work registration requirements for getting unemployment benefits.
“It is intended to provide for temporary partial wage loss benefits to individuals who have lost their job due to no fault of their own and who are available for and actively seeking full-time work. This has been in our statute for decades, and maybe since the inception,” Block told the committee.
In March 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order suspending the requirement for claimants to register for work and do work searches, an order that was reissued several times through September.
“When the Supreme Court issued its opinion on Oct. 2 invalidating many of these executive orders, we the business community, we the Chamber, were under this impression that work search and work registration requirements would resume. Fast forward to today, those requirements are still on pause,” Block said.
An administrative rule allows the UIA to waive the requirement when unemployment is above 8.5% and it determines “suitable work is not available,” Block explained.
But now unemployment is down to 5.1%.
Yet many jobs are going unfilled, Block contended. She pointed to the Pure Michigan Talent Connect website where more than 83,000 jobs have been posted within the last month.
The worker shortage is impacting all industries, she contended — construction, manufacturing, tourism.
“The diversity of members that are calling in on this issue is really quite staggering. It is really not limited to one industry,” Block said. “. . . I have members who are saying, ‘I’m paying $22 an hour and I’m offering a $2,000 signing bonus and I still can’t find anyone.'”
The lack of employees and applicants is impeding economic growth, Block contended, and the problem is only getting worse as businesses head into the summer season.
According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 42% of owners reported job openings that could not be filled, a record high reading.
Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) asked if unemployment benefits were providing a “disincentive loop.”
“If you can get $300 (from federal benefits) and $362 from the state, you are above $15 bucks an hour,” LaGrand noted.
He asked if the work search requirement would be asking workers to take employment for a wage cut.
“We are in a crazy position where government is competing with the private sector, competing with self-sufficiency and a good job, but that is where we are as a state and largely as a nation,” Block said.
The committee heard from a number of business owners about their struggles finding employees.
Dustin Blakemore, of Oakland County Two Men and a Truck, said that typically at this time of year, he would be running 12 to 15 trucks. “Right now, we are struggling to run four trucks,” he said.
“Right now, we have 18 employees and this time two years ago we had 39 employees. From a recruiting standpoint, our clicks on our ads are down about 95%. We’ve only had 56 clicks when two years ago the same time frame we had 1,200 clicks,” Blakemore said.
Tia Marie Sanders gave her own pushback to the committee.
“There was a lot of representation allowed for employers but very little representation for the employees, in particular the employees who are already disproportionately affected by unemployment, transportation, child care, health care protection, as well as options for promotion,” Sanders said.
She gave a list of reasons preventing workers from working, including “COVID scare, child care, school closures, wage gaps, no transportation, ability to get the vaccine, and actually getting the vaccine. No benefits are available even if you have those jobs.”
Meanwhile, Sanders noted that when she went to the Michigan Works office on Beck Road, “they slid a piece of paper out the door for fear of interacting with somebody who might be getting them sick with COVID. And I felt the same apprehension.”
“A lot that I could respond there,” Johnson responded. “I guess I would say, you can always find an excuse. You can always make yourself a victim. I think in my mind a part of being an American is you take responsibility for your actions and you move forward.”
No bill on the issue was before the committee Tuesday evening.