LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Tuesday her office is adding 350,000 appointments over nearly four months to address a pandemic-related backlog as Michigan residents try to renew driver's licenses, transfer vehicle titles and conduct other business in person.
Branch offices will be able to serve 25% more customers than planned, she said, citing efficiencies — namely shortening 20-minute appointment slots to 10-minute slots. She also eased a requirement that all visitors book an appointment in advance, saying those who need a disability placard can show up without one and be served.
Dedicated greeters will be stationed at the doors of some of the department's busiest offices. At other branches, counter staff will check outside between serving customers with appointments. They will tell people if any immediate appointments are available or help schedule them for later.
Benson, a Democrat, is confronting a logjam caused by the end of a 13-month grace period for driver’s license and ID renewals, which has been exacerbated by branch closures due to COVID-19 exposures. Republican lawmakers continued to press her to restore motorists' ability to walk in without an appointment, pointing to monthslong waits and frustrated customers. But she wants to stay the course and notes more transactions can be done online.
“We're able to do this after discussions with our frontline workers who are concerned about the chatter here in Lansing to revert back to a broken take-a-number system,” Benson said. Employees “suggested that they could work harder and faster to be able to handle more transactions each day efficiently and quickly. ... Having residents schedule their visits ahead of time is a vastly superior way of doing business.”
Benson's announcement came just a week after she sought $25 million from legislators to add 500,000 appointments through September.
“She's starting to listen to what people need in Michigan, and that's a start. The fact that she can add on 350,000 more appointments, you have to wonder why she didn't already do that," said Sen. Ruth Johnson, a Holly Republican who was secretary of state from 2011 through 2018. She criticized Benson for having closed offices on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings.
Benson noted that the Senate has proposed cutting the department’s budget by nearly $10 million, or 4.5%, in the next fiscal year. She said she needs more funding, not less, to hire workers and pay overtime to expand hours at branches.
Johnson has proposed bills that would extend the expiration date of registrations, licenses and ID cards until Sept. 30, retroactive to April 1. Late fees would be waived until branches offer at least 25 hours a week of walk-in services without an appointment.
Benson said expirations should be lengthened on a rolling basis instead of to a single day, which placed 13 months of pent-up demand on the system “all at once” when the grace period lapsed on March 31.
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