The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Criminalizing Michigan’s Unemployed

Sep 14, 2015

Unemployed workers in Michigan were “found guilty” of fraud by a computer — without any human intervention. The new software program, called MiDAS, automatically finds a claimant guilty of fraud if a single discrepancy or mistake is detected, even if the individual was eligible for benefits.

According to a Metro Times article on 7/1/15, one low wage unemployed worker, who applied for benefits but never collected a dime, was mistakenly fined $7,300 for “fraud.” She took a butcher knife and slit her wrists. Fortunately, she survived. Another woman, wrongly fined $50,000 and destroyed by the experience, took her own life.

As understanding of the injustices of the new software system spread, previously isolated unemployed workers have begun to fight back. They have filed a federal lawsuit. A reporter at Fox 17 news in Grand Rapids, Michigan has let many unemployed people tell their story on the evening news. State workers have aided reporters in understanding the worst aspects of the system. Pressure on legislators and the governor is starting to build.

In July, the State of Michigan sought to dismiss the federal lawsuit, claiming that no harm had been done. But in August, a top official for the State of Michigan appeared to back off a bit. She stated in a television interview on August 6th, “Before any fraud determinations are issued, a staff person from the unemployment insurance agency is gonna take a look at the facts of the case, see what additional information we might need.” She indicated that the State was moving toward having a real person, and not a computer system, determine if there’s fraud.

While this would be the right thing to do, the State of Michigan would need to hire more people to implement this plan.

But according to the Lansing State Journal (2/11/15), the Unemployment Agency workforce has actually fallen by 34% since 2010. This is the largest drop of any state department.

A call has gone out to support this fight by the unemployed. The first federal hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, October 20 at 3:30pm at the Federal Building at 211 W. Fort St. in Detroit. The unemployed and all who are on their side are encouraged to attend.