Criminalizing the unemployed
July 1, 2015
If MiDAS makes a fraud determination, the process has the effect of a steamroller. First, you’d lose access to a legal advocate — similar to a defender appointed in criminal cases. Michigan is one of few states in the U.S. that provide such a program. “With that happening, individuals are faced with either going out into the market trying to obtain legal representation,” says Anthony Paris, attorney for the Detroit-based Sugar Law Center, which represents claimants in fraud cases and is also an institutional plaintiff in the pending federal lawsuit. “And usually, we’re their first call, as far as that goes.” Paris says calls to Sugar Law over alleged fraud claims increased after MiDAS was implemented — and they’ve skyrocketed ever since the federal complaint was filed in April. The attorney says his office has a list of about 250 individuals who have received questionable fraud allegations from the state over their unemployment benefits. With such an influx of individuals seeking help, the law center’s short staff has been bogged down. …
Since last October, MiDAS has collected over $63 million in overpayments. Comparatively, in the entire year of 2010, the state collected $27.3 million. Attorneys involved in the fraud hearings raise a pointed question, though: Is the state collecting money over legitimate fraud? “There’s something corrupt about a system that takes the unemployed and makes the system overexpansive,” asserts John Philo, executive director of the Sugar Law Center. “And I think it’s intentionally over-expansive knowing that X number of people won’t fight it, will just go along with it — and the number that do fight it, any potential there is made up by the revenue gain.” And using authority granted under state law signed by Snyder, the UIA has collected nearly $2.65 million by automatically garnishing wages…
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