Responding to Unemployment Benefit Repayment Requests in Michigan
By Harvey I. Wax, Labor and Employment Lawyer
In recent times, thousands of residents in Michigan have received repayment demands from the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) for the benefits they received. These demands, reaching as high as $35,000, raise concerns about their legality. Many recipients have already used up their benefits and are unable to afford repayment, causing significant distress among Michiganders.
The UIA initiated these repayment requests in early 2020, alleging that approximately 700,000 claimants had received benefits in error amounting to around $3.9 billion over the previous two years. According to the UIA, the funds were incorrectly provided due to changes in eligibility rules under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The agency sent notices demanding repayment to all affected individuals, explaining that the payments were made in error due to revised federal eligibility requirements. Unfortunately, before receiving these repayment letters, most recipients had already exhausted their benefits as a result of the pandemic.
The UIA frequently disqualifies claimants it previously found eligible, citing recent changes in federal eligibility regulations that supposedly prove their initial ineligibility. In some cases, claimants are retroactively disqualified without any explanation, facing allegations of “misrepresentation” or “fraud,” both of which are criminal offenses.
Opposing the UIA’s repayment demands commonly requires filing a formal appeal with either an Administrative Law Judge or the UIA Appeal Commission. However, these appeals have encountered limited success due to various issues within the UIA’s operations, such as unqualified employees, understaffing, unresponsiveness to calls and messages, and significant delays in processing hearing requests. The agency has already undergone three director changes, but improvements to its procedures remain elusive.
Governor Whitmer and other elected officials have publicly criticized the UIA’s repayment demands, calling for their cessation and the cancellation of outstanding repayment requests. Unfortunately, these pleas have gone unanswered so far.
Few individuals who choose to represent themselves have achieved positive outcomes when pursuing appeals for cancellation or reduction of repayment demands. However, claimants who seek skilled representation from knowledgeable employment attorneys have seen more success. For instance, our firm has secured favorable rulings from Administrative Law Judges, resulting in individual repayment requests being canceled, some as high as $17,000 and $20,000.
There is hope that either a court or the Legislature, currently investigating this problem, will order the cancellation of UIA repayment demands. If you are facing such a demand, it is advisable to consider this possibility and file an appeal promptly. This is the best way to safeguard yourself against further actions by the UIA.
Our labor and employment attorneys in Ann Arbor have extensive experience handling UIA repayment demands. Contact us at Garrity Traina to discuss your case and receive the guidance you need.