Michigan UIA director on unemployment fraud: ‘We’re not going to tolerate the criminal activity’

Director Julia Dale sits down to answer series of questions about agency that has faced harsh criticism during pandemic

Michigan UIA website

Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) Director Julia Dale took over the position in October 2021.

We sat down with her recently to discuss the challenges the agency faces nearly two years since the coronavirus pandemic struck the state of Michigan. The state has gone through two UIA directors during the pandemic, and now Dale is the third.

She takes over an agency that has been riddled with big problems since the start of the pandemic -- a website that couldn’t keep up with demand, rampant fraud and a shift in leadership during those challenging times.

Full interview: Q&A with new Michigan UIA director

Question: Fraud has been a huge problem, not only within the agency itself, but with people making claims that did not deserve to receive that money. Do you have a fraud unit? What’s being done to go after those people who are collecting money that should never have been collecting money to begin with?

Dale: “We have a division that is focused on identifying fraud, and this group also works in partnership with the fraud task force. Not only that but we also work with our federal partners, we work with the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, to identify and implement best practices. We have had a lot of success there in those partnerships.”

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Question: What would you say to those who feel like they’ve kind of gotten away with it. There are people who collected because in the early days of the pandemic it was kind of the Wild Wild West of people hopping online and getting approval for benefits. There weren’t a lot of checks and balances. What’s being done right now to make sure only those who need it are getting that money?

Dale: “I don’t want to go into specifics, because we don’t want to let those who are the fraudsters know all of our tools, but I will say that we have best practices in place. We are partnering with state and federal agencies, and also with other jurisdictions, to really identify fraud. It’s something that we take very seriously. We recognize that there are residents in this state that have earned and deserve these benefits, and we are going to work very hard, and we’re going to continue to work hard, to make sure that the criminals are not going to take advantage of that.”

Question: It really seems like when the light switch flipped up for the independent contractors, that’s where things kind of went bonkers a little bit for people collecting, right?

Dale: “I think that there are a lot of different things that came into play with fraud. We have seen trends across the country that are not unique to what we’re seeing in Michigan, whether we’re looking at certainly identity theft plays a factor in there, larger criminal efforts. There are a variety of things that have impacted those fraud numbers.”

Question: We’ve already seen people brought into court and facing charges. The penalties for fraud -- whether it’s a high-tech thief, someone who is trying to tap into the system from out of state, or somebody who lives in Metro Detroit who thinks they’re going to collect a paycheck even though they don’t deserve it -- the penalties are pretty severe, right?

Dale: “They are. And we look to pursue where we see these bad actors. Where we’re working with our federal and state partners, we want to send the message that we’re not going to tolerate the criminal activity.”

Michigan UIA resources:

About the Author:

Hank Winchester is Local 4’s Consumer Investigative Reporter and the head of WDIV’s “Help Me Hank” Consumer Unit. Hank works to solve consumer complaints, reveal important recalls and track down thieves who have ripped off people in our community.