by Bruce Walker
Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency Director Liza Estlund Olson was grilled Thursday morning by the state House Oversight Committee.
Committee members asked pointed questions about recent revelations relating to the departure of Olson’s predecessor, Steve Gray, in November. Gray received a $76,626 payout and another $9,246 in attorney fees and signed a confidentiality agreement with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.
“What occurred leading up to the resignation of former Director Steve Gray, and why he was offered $85,000 to keep quiet and drop any sort of legal claims?” Committee Vice Chair Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, asked Olson.
“I came in after that process occurred,” Olson responded. “I don’t know any of the background on it, and it does not help me pay one claim, … so I don’t have any information on that.”
Outman persisted, asking Olson if she thought the payout and confidentiality agreement package was “an ethical use of taxpayer dollars” and also questioned whether Olson herself would accept a similar package.
Olson noted the agreement between Gray and the administration was “a contractual issue with” human resources, and stated she would not comment further on the matter.
“These sort of things are what’s wrong with our political system, and I think our constituents deserve better,” Outman said.
Committee Chair Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, wrapped up the exchange by stating Olson’s comments troubled him. “It was the former director, and you can’t say with certainty that you would turn down one of these hush fund settlements?” he asked.
Johnson followed up by asking how often Olson and Whitmer met to discuss the UIA backlog of unemployment insurance claims. He expressed dismay when Olson answered she meets with the governor only on a monthly basis.
Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, questioned Olson about why one of her constituents was forced to wait 11 months to have an unemployment claim addressed by the UIA. She added thousands of frustrated people have contacted her office with similar stories.
Data released Thursday by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget reports unemployment in the state averaged 10% in 2020. That number fell to 8.2% in December.
Prior to the onset of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, Michigan’s unemployment rate in 2019 was 4.1%.
The DTMB also reported Michigan’s January workforce total of 4,736,000 was the lowest recorded labor force level since May 2020 (4,695,000).
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.