Audit: Many Mich. jobless claims calls go unanswered

The Detroit News

The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency didn’t answer or failed to return hundreds of thousands of phone calls from frustrated jobless claimants or potential benefits clients, according to a survey from an audit released Thursday.

The agency didn’t answer nearly 235,000 phone calls, or 89 percent, of the almost 264,000 calls made to its call centers during business hours during two separate weeks in August 2014 and September 2014, the audit reported.

In addition, callers hung up on 8,333, or 29 percent, of their 28,825 inquiries while waiting on hold for an Unemployment Insurance Agency operator.

“Claimants’ inability to reach UIA’s call center was a significant frustration echoed by many claimants who responded to our claimant satisfaction survey,” the Auditor General’s Office wrote.

State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, called the audit results “appalling” and demanded change.

“We require people to call into the agency in order to receive their benefits,” Dianda said in a statement. “The UIA needs to make sure they always have enough staff to answer these calls.”

The massive number of unanswered calls and hang-ups happened even though the agency since 2011 “has made significant upgrades to its call center telephone system that provide for greater oversight and management of call center staff, the ability to offer a limited number of claimants the option of receiving a call back from UIA rather than waiting on hold, and other benefits,” according to the audit.

The agency, part of the new Talent Investment Agency, quibbled with the auditor general’s numbers. It argued the auditor general measured call attempts instead of unique callers, which inflated the failure rate.

The UIA maintained it didn’t answer 28,131 unique calls or nearly 50 percent of the 58,212 unique calls during the 2014 weeks in question — less than the 89 percent rate.

The agency said during the same weeks in 2015, the unanswered unique call rate fell to 21 percent. It says the answered call rate continued to improve during the past year.

The Auditor General’s Office suggested the agency use social media to help address questions and possibly alleviate the number of calls.

The Unemployment Insurance Agency said it already is using the TIA’s Twitter and Facebook sites to “monitor and answer customer inquiries” as well as direct benefits clients to unemployment insurance information.

The Auditor General’s Office also estimated the agency wasted up to $3.8 million in taxpayer money in 2014 because 451,000 mailed items to customers and employers were returned as undeliverable and had no forwarding address.

“UIA was not able to provide unable to provide any explanation as to why it continued to send mail to undeliverable addresses,” the Auditor General’s Office said.

The agency agreed that returned mail “remains a challenge,” but noted less than 8 percent of the agency’s total mail volume in 2014 was returned.

The audit otherwise found the agency provided “moderately clear and comprehensive” ways for the public to communicate with state workers about benefit claims and other questions.