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Rep addresses jobless issue

Cambensy urges quick fixes to claims

A fence line in the city of Marquette contains a positive message. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency announced that in collaboration with the U.S. Secret Service and Office of Inspector General it would take proactive steps to limit the threat of criminals fraudulently accessing unemployment benefits.

The UIA has also placed stop payment notices on some claimant accounts while asking for additional authentication.

In response, state Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, issued the following statement:

“We are now in crisis mode with our unemployment system,” she said. “My office already has over 150 unemployment claims that still haven’t been addressed. Everyone has run out of patience waiting. The governor and the UIA need to work 24/7 to fix these issues to ensure displaced workers receive their payments immediately.”

Cambensy said unemployment offices and phone lines must be reopened in regions 6 and 8 — which cover the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan — with extended hours to help people who are impacted.

For Thursday, May 28.

“If there is fraud, residents need to be able to go in person or call and talk to someone directly,” Cambensy said. “After 10 weeks of trying to be the middleman between the UIA and constituents, I’ve lost my patience. We have officially reached the point in Michigan where the UIA is failing. There are no more excuses.”

The UIA has warned residents of attempts by criminals to file impostor claims in pursuit of benefits. The U.S. Secret Service recently issued a national alert regarding an international criminal ring exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to commit large-scale fraud against state unemployment programs.

The UIA, Michigan State Police Cyber Command and the Department of Technology Management and Budget Cybersecurity are coordinating with the U.S. Secret Service to obtain cyber threat indicators related to national fraud activity. No personal data from claimants has been stolen from the UIA.

Impostor claims are filed using previously stolen or fraudulent personal information.

The expanded benefits available under the newly created federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program has resulted in increased activity among criminals, particularly those posing as self-employed workers or independent contractors to illegally obtain benefits.

Using information from federal and state law enforcement, the UIA has developed additional fraud protections, including additional requirements to verify identity and authenticate claim eligibility.

These changes could impact both new and existing claimants, but are made using the latest understanding of how criminals are gaining access to benefits.

Some existing claimants may have received stop payment notices on their accounts and have been sent instructions on how to submit the additional information.

Certain financial institutions may also place a hold on a customer’s account if it believes there is suspicious activity. Customers should contact their institution directly if this occurs.

When an individual files a claim for unemployment insurance, the UIA said, they will receive a written Monetary Determination letter. Anyone who receives this letter — Form UIA 1575C — who has not applied for unemployment benefits, or receives it with a name is not their name, might be a victim of identity theft.

If this happens, they are urged to contact the UIA immediately online at Michigan.gov/UIA through the report identity theft link.

Music Fest canceled

Thunder on the Iron Range has canceled this year’s Upper Michigan Music Fest due to COVID-19 concerns.

It said the state stay-at-home order and the city of Negaunee’s suspension of street-use permits were factors in its decision.

Anyone who purchased tickets will receive a 100% refund no later than June 5.

Finn Fun Day canceled

Finn Fun Day 2020, which had been scheduled for Aug. 22, has been canceled due to concerns about COVID-19.

The sponsoring group, the Finlandia Foundation National Lake Superior Chapter, is planning to have it again in the summer of 2021.

Meanwhile, the next big gathering for the FFNLSC might be in December to celebrate

“Pikkujoulu” or Little Christmas. An announcement will be made later this year.

Portal developed

With efforts to re-engage Michigan’s economy underway through recent executive orders signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Pure Michigan Business Connect program through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation has developed a portal specifically designed to support the personal protective equipment needs of Michigan businesses as they start the process of reopening.

“We want to ensure we are opening up in a way that is safe, smart and does not undo the progress we have made in flattening the curve of COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a news release. “Through the PMBC COVID-19 Procurement Platform, we can help employers access the PPE they need to ensure their employees feel safe returning to work, while also supporting Michigan businesses that will be critical to economic recovery efforts.”

Through the free platform, the PMBC team will work to connect those businesses in need of access to PPE — including face masks, face shields, gloves, goggles and other materials as necessary to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers — with Michigan businesses that have supplier capacity to meet that demand.

The online portal, which can be accessed at www.michiganbusiness.org/ppe, is open to companies of all sizes and industries and is available for all scales of PPE demand.

Response Grants awarded

The Michigan College Access Network has awarded $34,487 in its second round of COVIID-19 Response Grants to eight organizations in Michigan. These grants help Michigan high schools, Local College Access Networks, community-based nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions support emergent postsecondary projects and programs in their communities.

The grants were announced by MCAN in early April 2020 to demonstrate MCAN’s responsiveness to and support of communities affected by the global health pandemic that continues to have a major impact in the state, predominantly in minority communities MCAN serves.

Two grants were awarded to Upper Peninsula schools. Sault Area High School was awarded $2,500 to support rising seniors with additional SAT test preparation to improve scores and higher education attainment.

Tahquamenon Area Schools used the $2,500 grant to fund a virtual decision day celebration highlighting the postsecondary plans of its senior class.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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