Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency director resigns

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Steve Gray, the director of Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency, has resigned after months of record jobless claims because of COVID-19 that led to delays in benefits, frustration among residents and inquiries from lawmakers.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office announced Gray's resignation on Thursday afternoon but provided no explanation for it. Liza Estlund Olson will now serve as acting director. Olson also was director of the Office of the State Employer. Previously, she was the unemployment agency's acting director in 2007 and 2008.

Steve Gray

"The administration is committed to providing crucial unemployment benefits to support Michigan’s working families as our state battles COVID-19,” said Trish Foster, Whitmer’s chief operating officer. “As director of the Office of the State Employer, Liza has proven time and again that she will do everything in her power to protect Michigan workers."

Michigan's unemployment rate reached as high as 24% in April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, amid business closures aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19. The job losses overwhelmed the state's online unemployment system and left some residents without benefits for months.

In a letter to staff, Gray said the agency had provided nearly seven years’ worth of benefits to the people of Michigan in seven months, over $25 billion to just about 3 million claimants.

The message didn't provide an explanation for his departure.

"I recognize that the timing of this change is less than perfect, especially for an agency that has seen its share of leadership change in the last 10 years," Gray wrote. "But I have complete confidence in my replacement’s experience and the commitment and skill of our team to get us through this change and come out stronger on the other side.

"It has truly been a privilege to lead this team. Thank you for all your amazing work."

In June, a group of Republican House members called for a leadership overhaul within the state's Unemployment Insurance Agency as tens of thousands of Michigan residents faced lengthy waits for assistance.

Gray was previously the director of Michigan Law's Unemployment Insurance Clinic and has spent much of his legal career helping get people financial assistance. Whitmer selected Gray for the job in May 2019.

In April, Gray publicly apologized for areas of the state's unemployment website that "aren’t as user friendly as they could be." At that time, he said there were tens of thousands of people still waiting in a proverbial line to get assistance from the state.