by Scott McClallen
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s offices are adding 350,000 appointments, greeters at office doors to assist in scheduling visits, and priority service for residents needing a disability placard to clear a 13-month backlog during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were able to do this after discussions with our frontline workers who, concerned about the chatter here in Lansing to revert back to a broken ‘take a number and wait’ system, suggested ways they could work harder and faster to be able to handle more transactions efficiently and quickly,” Benson said at an in-person press conference. “It’s an extraordinary testament not just to their dedication to the department but their recognition that having residents schedule their visits ahead of time is a vastly superior way of doing business.”
The three changes are:
- Increasing appointments by 25% between now and Sept. 30 by slashing some transaction times. The SOS announced half of the more than 350,000 new appointments Monday, and the remaining half will be split up and released every weekday at 8 a.m. and noon between now and Sept. 30 as next-day appointments. Appointments can be booked online at gov/SOS or, for people with internet limitations, by calling 888-SOS-MICH.
- Residents will be able to book appointments in person through a pilot program placing greeters at the doors of many of the department’s busiest offices this month. Greeters will tell customers if any staff are available to serve them or help them schedule a return visit. The same service will be available at offices without dedicated greeters when counter staff can approach the door between appointments.
- Residents needing disability placards can now be served as soon as possible after arrival at any office. While these residents are still encouraged to schedule their visits, appointments are no longer required to receive a disability placard.
Benson blamed the backlog partly on what she calls decades of disinvestment and neglect by the state Legislature and previous secretaries of state, who cut staff by 40% and closed 46% of offices while the state population grew 10% and the number of vehicles increased 25%.
Benson said the Legislature could expedite the backlog quickly by passing bills that aim to provide $25 million in COVID-19 relief funding to hire 200 additional workers and pay overtime to extend operating hours to deliver 210,000 new appointments through Sept. 30.
“I am truly grateful to the hard-working men and women who have given years, if not decades, of their lives to public service here at the Department of State,” Benson said. “Whether the legislative leaders are with us or not, the people of this department will not give up on our mission of continuing to find new ways to provide convenient and efficient service to all Michiganders. And neither will I.”
Michiganders pulled over without a valid license plate can be fined. One man in a Lansing Kroger resorted to a sticker promising his SOS appointment was on June 3.
Benson wants to serve Michiganders while preventing COVID-19 outbreaks. She said this is the first week they haven’t had a COVID-19 outbreak at one of the 131 branches.
“I want us to have an abundance of appointments,” Benson said.
Benson said the current fiscal budget has cut $9 million from the SOS.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.