By Jessica Mathews /

Changes are being implemented to help address pandemic-related backlogs at Michigan Secretary of State branch offices – although GOP lawmakers say it’s not enough.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced Tuesday that her offices are adding appointments to serve 350,000 more Michiganders, will have greeters at office doors to assist in scheduling visits and priority service for residents needing a disability placard. 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 say it took far too long to make the changes and are pressuring Benson to restore motorists’ ability to walk-in without an appointment and re-open for same-day service, pointing to months-long waits.

Among those is Republican State Representative Ann Bollin of Brighton Township, < a href="">who said people are frustrated because it has never before been so difficult to conduct routine business and the changes are not enough to provide Michigan residents with the level of services they deserve. She commented that spending overhead on a greeter to meet residents at the door and set them up with an appointment that’s still two months away is not going to solve problems – adding branch offices need to be open for walk-ins and operate more efficiently.

Secretary Benson noted that the department suffered during 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 alleged the Legislature made matters worse during the pandemic by ignoring the department’s request that expiration extensions be granted on a rolling basis. She says they instead extended every license and vehicle plate in the state to expire on March 31st – which placed 13 months of pent-up demand on the system all at once.

Bollin expressed further frustration at the Secretary of State’s attempt to blame the Legislature for her problems.

Benson asserted in a press release that the Legislature could cut through this transaction backlog quickly by passing bills that would provide $25 million in COVID-19 relief funding for additional department staff and overtime. She further noted that the Senate has proposed cutting the department’s budget by nearly $10 (m) million, or 4.5%, in the next fiscal year.