Michigan UIA: Kicking People When They’re Down

Michigan UIA: Kicking People When They're Down

Okay, so this one is personal. October 2014 I found myself unemployed and subjected to the automated machinery of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA). Not that it matters, but it wasn’t my fault. The fruitful and profitable automotive electronics company I was working for was sold off to another company. (I don’t want to name any names but it starts with a “V” and rhymes with “Pissteon.”) And despite the boom times, they managed in a year’s time to strangle their newly acquired division and scatter 90% of its employees, including me. (I have come to accept this as my destiny for having grown up in Flint — one day I would be spit out by the automotive industry. It was just a matter of time.)

Fortunately, I had severance pay and found new employment fairly quickly. But not without being punished by the UIA automated system. There were a few false accusations, but the main one had to do with the severance. You must report all income to the UIA system, so a couple weeks after being laid off the check arrived and I reported it. Soon afterward I started getting the “Why You Lie?” letters from the UIA. They basically went like this:

“Why you lie? You no get monies. You pay us many many many monies. You awful person. …and if we can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us!”

Eventually I discovered that “Pissteon” had reported my severance to the UIA as two separate checks issued on two separate weeks. Why? I don’t know. I’m guessing for tax avoiding purposes. But in any case, it took me quite a long time to get it (mostly) fixed. I received my unemployment money after I was again employed. I was still cheated out of a couple of weeks, but I didn’t have to pay any fines. I was lucky to have had the time, the ability, and the stubbornness to get it resolved. (Also I should mention that when I was able to get UIA service agents on the phone, most were patient and helpful.)

I was also very lucky that my family was not dependent on the unemployment money. Not everybody is so fortunate, and this is what has brought on a lawsuit. I understand there are cheats who want to game the system, and there should be barriers that block them. But subjecting those who stray slightly outside the lines to an automated “guilty until proven innocent” system needs to stop. It’s onerous and un-American.

On a lighter note, the punchline in the cartoon was inspired by a bit from one of my all-time favorite (and semi-obscure) Disney animated films, The Emperor’s New Groove:

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