- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan’s top unemployment insurance official was reassigned Thursday after at least 20,000 people were wrongly accused of fraud by an automated computer system.

Talent Investment Agency Director Wanda Stokes said Sharon Moffett-Massey, who directed the Unemployment Insurance Agency, will now work on special projects. Bruce Noll, the Talent Investment Agency’s legislative liaison, will serve as acting assistant director of the unemployment agency during a national search for a new director.

A state review of unemployment fraud cases found an error rate of 93 percent in auto-adjudicated cases between October 2013 and early August 2015, according to U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, who requested the inquiry and has brought attention to the plight of laid-off workers mistakenly snagged by the Michigan Integrated Data Automated System.

Of about 53,600 cases total, 22,427 were reviewed. Fraud determinations were upheld in just 1,462 cases, and overturned in 20,965 cases. About $5.4 million was repaid to 2,571 people.

Stokes, who took over the talent agency in July, said the leadership change is part of a three-point plan to address “significant challenges” within the unemployment agency.

“We must do better, and I am committed to making the agency stronger and more effective,” she said in a statement.

Levin, a Royal Oak Democrat, said Thursday the changes are “long overdue” and called for the state to take another look at all fraud decisions that were made during the time of automatic computer determinations.

The Republican governor is soon expected to sign legislation that would prohibit the unemployment agency from determining fraud solely with computer-identified discrepancies in information supplied by claimants seeking benefits or employers.

In February, the Michigan auditor general found that computer-determined fraud was affirmed in just 8 percent of appeals related to alleged misrepresentation. Sixty-four percent were dismissed, and in 22 percent of cases, the agency was asked to review the findings again.

An April audit said the agency needed to do a better job explaining to claimants the rationale for alleging that they provided false or misleading information. State legislators held hearings in the spring. Lawsuits have been filed against the state, too.

House Minority Leader Sam Singh, an East Lansing Democrat, accused Snyder of waiting too long to hold Moffett-Massey accountable.

“Michiganders count on their government to act in their best interest, and it’s a shame that once again, Gov. (Rick) Snyder failed to do that in a timely fashion,” he said in a statement.

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Online:

House Bill 4982: https://bit.ly/2hXPHNl

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Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert

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