Whitmer: State to seek waivers for unemployment claimants caught up in eligibility snafu

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The state of Michigan plans to seek waivers for unemployment claimants who filed in good faith but whose claims are now being called into question because of changing guidelines for the benefits. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday that the state plans to apply for waivers from the U.S. Department of Labor for Michigan residents who were paid benefits under qualifications developed by the state but later rejected by the federal government. 

"I want to be clear to every Michigander who did the right thing: No one who followed the rules and received benefits through no fault of their own should have to pay back money to the federal government," Whitmer said in a statement.

"We expect to utilize the waiver process that was granted by the federal government to ensure that you are made whole."

Liza Estlund Olson, acting director for the Unemployment Insurance Agency, added that the agency expects those who are ineligible because of changing criteria will be eligible for a waiver.

The U.S. Department of Labor "has authorized states to waive overpayments if the state determines that the payment was without fault on the part of the person who applied for benefits and that repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience as defined by state law," Eslund Olson said in a statement.

The statement from Whitmer comes after 648,100 residents in late June were sent letters to inform them that they would have to submit new self-attestations to verify their eligibility for federal pandemic unemployment assistance. 

The new self-attestations were required after eligibility criteria the state developed early in the pandemic for PUA benefits was rejected by the Department of Labor earlier this year. Instead, the Department of Labor issued three new federal criteria an individual could mark.

The additional federal qualifications also mean about 42,092 residents denied pandemic unemployment assistance can reapply to see if they meet the new standards. 

In the agency's late June letter, the state unemployment agency indicated those found ineligible under the new criteria would be evaluated to determine whether they owed money back, and a potential waiver of that overpayment. 

Whitmer's Tuesday statement appears to go a step further in guaranteeing that waiver. 

"It’s important that we keep our promise to Michiganders to help them keep food on the table and a roof over their heads as they look for work," she said. 

The U.S. Department of Labor last week said it was aware of Michigan's late June letter sent regarding the eligibility of thousands of Michigan residents for pandemic unemployment assistance. Department spokesman Scott Allen said the letter was sent after the Chicago regional office began communicating with the state in February 2021. 

"The department will continue to work with the state as needed," Allen said.