Muskegon woman forced to close art school while waiting 10 months of unemployment


MUSKEGON COUNTY, Michigan – A Muskegon County artist waited more than 10 months for her unemployment benefits.

She closed her business after the state forced it to close last spring.

It’s hard enough to apply for benefits when you’ve never had to before, but even harder when you don’t have cell or internet service.

A family member intervened, but they still receive conflicting responses from the UIA.


Paula Johnson’s garage is now full of her art supplies. All ended up at his property in rural Muskegon County.

“It’s just a nightmare. It has been a real nightmare, really, she said.

From paintbrushes and canvases to pieces of clay and the potter’s wheel, Johnson had no idea his barn would soon become a storage unit for his business.

“My oven is back here somewhere; it’s like it’s ridiculous, ”she told me, showing me around her barn.


Paula had approximately 1,200 square feet of studio space in Norton Shores, running the Lakeshore School of Fine Arts for over 30 years.

She has taught art to members of the community, including people with special needs such as autism, blindness or other physical and mental disabilities.

“I really don’t know what to do anymore,” she said. “I really want to get back to work. I’m going crazy that I can’t work.

When the state issued executive orders last spring, Paula was unable to operate. It meant more classes, more students, and more money.

Without funds to pay her rent, Paula had to close. It was then that she applied for unemployment.


“Even if they send me documents telling me I’m eligible, they don’t put money in my account,” Johnson said.

Paula lives on 30 acres and the family is fairly self-sufficient there.

Paula’s husband hunts on the land; they have chickens, fruit trees and farm and can their own food.

But they don’t have cell, computer or internet service. Only a landline.

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“And so, I helped her apply. I called her on the phone, put her on speakerphone and went through all the steps and asked her questions to get it all, ”said nephew Nicholas Hadley.

Hadley would make sure her aunt emailed her the documents whenever she was in town around cell service.

She received benefits until July, but then the identity verification button appeared on her account.

“We were asked to post things, we were asked to fax them, we were asked to submit them via the MIWAM messenger, we were asked to submit them via the MIWAM portal – all these different ways of submitting them” , did he declare. .


“Here are my certified mail receipts,” Johnson said, showing us his kitchen table full of UIA documents.

She told us that she had submitted her proof of salary several times.

Nicholas also emailed the agency on MIWAM and sent a letter from his aunt.

Every time they hooked up with someone on the 877 phone line, they ended the call even more confused.

“We talk to different people and they don’t know what they are talking about. I swear they don’t know what they’re talking about, ”she said. “We send them ID, we send them this, we send them that over and over again by email, by fax, by certified mail.”

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Paula’s business is still closed and she cannot request the extension until her account is resolved. She is now waiting for what should be ten months of benefits.

“But the savings are now extremely depleted; we could really use the unemployment money to spend right now because I tried to reopen my business,” she said.

Paula recently looked at a few new properties.

She really wants to step into a new space to help her students get the art therapy they really need.

We contacted the UIA, which is currently studying his case.

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Kayleen C. Rice

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