Since the Governor's first stay at home order in March, a steady stream of constituents have contacted me for help. Many of our neighbors are not only afraid for their health and safety, but experiencing layoffs and anxious about the growing pile of unpaid bills, with no relief on the horizon. These folks followed the advertised process to access their unemployment insurance benefit. However, due to a Snyder legacy computer system designed to "catch fraud" instead of a check all they receive are nonsensical error messages and dead ends. Naturally, they attempt to call to resolve their application but the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) is only able to serve 2000 calls a day. That seems like a lot, but these are historic times and call volume frequently reaches 175000 call per day. Of course they are unable to get a human on the phone.
I have now repeatedly talked to constituents who have devoted several hours each day, for the past 4-6 weeks, and are still unable to connect and complete their claim. We must do better.
For the past 6 weeks I have been beating every bush trying to get answers and help for our community. I called our state rep. Larry Inman. No luck. I called our state senator Wayne Schmidt. His office staff took messages on three occasions but Wayne did not return my calls for over a month.
Unable to connect with the state legislators for Grand Traverse County, and desperate to access the support our neighbors needed, I turned to a personal friend. State Representative Alex Garza does not represent the citizens of northern Michigan; he's a "downstater" representing a section of Detroit, Wayne County. However, as a protege to the one and only Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Garza believes that responsibility of elected office means to provide support and constituent services to everyone. I was hesitant to bother my friend because Detroit has borne the brunt of the pandemic and I knew he would be busy working in his community. However, at 6:30 pm on a week night, Rep. Garza answered my text with a phone call. To help his Northern neighbors get the answers they needed he then spent nearly two hours on the phone, first with me, and then with his contact at the UIA.
Rep. Garza told me about a "CRT form" that only state and federal elected officials can submit on behalf of their community to help expedite support from UIA. A team of 30 unemployment specialists are dedicated to resolving these forms for the constituents legislators refer, and most receive a resolution within 1 week. Rep. Garza informed me that since the beginning of the public health emergency he and his staff are focused full time on securing economic relief for their community and to date they have processed over 500 constituent CRT forms.
Thanks to Rep. Garza, I now had an explicit ask for Senator Wayne Schmidt. After additional attempts, I spoke with Wayne and he assured me that his staff WILL now respond promptly to Grand Traverse County constituents and provide some support during this difficult situation.
If you or someone you know has submitted their application and is stuck in UIA computer program purgatory, here are the steps to follow:
1. E-MAIL David firstname.lastname@example.org at State Sen. Wayne Schmidt, 37th District
Include in e-mail:
Brief description of issue you are facing
2. ASK him to fill out a CRT form on your behalf
3. Optional - CC: email@example.com when you e-mail Sen. Schmidt’s office. Let me know when you hear back and when issue is resolved
4. ANSWER when you get a call from UIA, they will call from an 866 number
For everyone else, please share widely!
And finally, please join me in extending HUGE gratitude to State Representative Alex Garza from the Detroit area who acted in solidarity with us here in the North. THIS is the Michigan I am proud to be part of.
Take good care all,
"Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." ~ Leonard Cohen