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Press Release

Gross Incompetence: Benton Harbor and a $3.9 Billion Error

Nov 19, 2021 | Columns

The gross incompetence of the Whitmer administration has been on full display in recent weeks.

From the botched response to the Benton Harbor water crisis to the latest unemployment benefit fiasco, this hasn’t been a good stretch for Governor Whitmer.

In Benton Harbor, the Governor ignored the scientific evidence and the pleas of the community. For three years she did virtually nothing to help Benton Harbor residents suffering with overly contaminated water. It wasn’t until a request was filed for intervention by the Environmental Protection Agency that the Governor finally pulled her head out of the sand. 

She belatedly issued an executive order vowing to replace pipes within 18 months. While that action was necessary and should be applauded, it’s still very troubling why she would wait and delay when the situation was more dangerous than the Flint water crisis several years back.

Was it callous disregard for a poorer community in the state, or just blatant incompetence?

When I first learned of the water problems in Benton Harbor, I immediately visited the community and volunteered along with local residents to distribute bottled water to the citizens. I talked with those most impacted, and quite frankly, was appalled at the Governor’s inaction.

Residents hadn’t heard from or seen the Governor in their city. Instead, she quietly slipped into town under cover of darkness one night. No public appearances to reassure residents, just a secret visit that didn’t help the situation at all.

It’s also a sad fact that none of the other candidates for Governor visited Benton Harbor to help. There will be other Benton Harbors to deal with, and Michigan residents deserve a Governor who will be proactive – leading, not hiding. That’s what I bring to the table: leadership.

Then there is the $3.9 billion mistake by the Whitmer administration. A report from the Officer of the Auditor General documents that the state paid out “at least” $3.9 billion in unemployment claims to people who were not eligible to receive the payments, according to auditors.

And because it was the state’s mistake, the money will never be recovered.

$3.9 billion in taxpayer money lost because of bureaucratic incompetence. The auditors stated that Whitmer’s process allowed “individuals without any prior attachment to the workforce” to collect payments. That’s bureaucratic jargon for people who did not have jobs to begin with.

$3,900,000,000 is a mind-boggling number that most people can’t wrap their heads around. Think of it this way: 3.9 billion seconds is the equivalent of 123.67 years.

But to Governor Whitmer and her cronies, $3.9 billion is no big deal – it’s just an “error.” Our tax dollars are just play money to them. And that’s not right.

So how did this “error” happen?

Steve Gray, Unemployment Insurance Agency Director at the time, warned the Whitmer administration of the risk in their plan to push out new benefits rapidly. In a slide deck presentation in April of 2020, Gray stated, “we have a choice between speed and overpayment risk.” The faster money was paid out, the more risk that they would be paying people who weren’t eligible to receive benefits.

The Whitmer administration chose speed over accuracy. The result was a $3.9 billion loss. Director Gray resigned, but Whitmer bears the ultimate responsibility.

As her new director stated recently, one of the causes of the error was “shifting nearly our entire staff to remote operations.”

That’s right, Whitmer’s own administration is now saying the Governor’s forced “work at home” scheme was a cause of this huge error.

The U.S. Labor Department warned the Whitmer administration in June of 2020 of issues with the criteria Michigan was using. Whitmer ignored those warnings.

The audit also noted that the Unemployment Insurance Agency “continued to include the four unauthorized eligibility criteria on its forms and sent conflicting documentation” to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The UIA now says it has corrected eight of the eleven findings from a January review, but the audit concluded the agency’s efforts were “not effective.” More disturbing, the audit found that there was an inappropriate “tone at the top” regarding internal controls and delays in corrective action.

The pattern is clear. Whitmer ignored the warnings.

Whitmer ignored the warnings in Benton Harbor.

Whitmer ignored the warning of her former UIA director.

Whitmer ignored the warning of the U.S. Department of Labor.

And now Michigan residents pay the price.

It’s time to Dump Whitmer. Michigan deserves better.