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Empower Wisconsin | May 5, 2020

MADISON — Desperation is growing from displaced workers who have unsuccessfully tried to obtain unemployment benefits from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

As of Monday, DWD’s Unemployment Division had received more than 498,000 applications for benefits. It had paid out 966,089 weekly claims through Saturday, for a total of $160.8 million in weekly benefits paid during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown orders issued by Gov. Tony Evers’ administration.

But many claimants are still waiting.

As of Friday, one Senate office had heard from 53 constituents about problems with their Unemployment Insurance applications.

“The vast majority of these inquiries have occurred within the past two weeks (April 17 through May 1),” a legislative aide told Empower Wisconsin. He said many constituents have “understandably lost their patience,” going as many as seven weeks without income.

Other legislative offices have reported similar issues. Some say they have been “flooded” with calls and emails from constituents who have not heard from UI in four to six weeks following their initial application.

“Most have applied and haven’t heard anything and are reaching out to us as an act of desperation,” one legislative aide said.

Constituent service officials say they send these cases to a special DWD email for expedited review. It’s supposed to take agents two to three days to contact the individual. “However, we are finding it is taking upwards of 10 days for our constituents to receive a call back,” the source said.

“People are on their last financial leg right now.”

Officials advise claimants to go through DWD’s website to contact Unemployment Insurance staff; it’s much faster than connecting by phone. DWD officials advise the same.

“DWD is experiencing an unprecedented call volume to our unemployment insurance and IT help lines. Unless you have received official notification from Unemployment Insurance that you must call our help center, please search for your answer at dwd.wi.gov/covid19 or dwd.wi.gov/uiben/faqs in order to free up phone lines for folks who are required to call in,” the agency states on its website.

These are unprecedented times, with untold “nonessential businesses” either shut down or significantly limited. Unemployment Insurance agents have been swamped.

“Hundreds of DWD staff are working overtime to process claims, integrate new federal programs, disburse benefits, answer questions, and update IT and telecom processes to help as many people as possible…” said DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman.

But too many are stuck.

“Even with legislative offices trying to help, there have been significant delays,” one legislative aide told Empower Wisconsin. “All we can do is pester the department, but we are at the whim of the department to do something about it.”

Unemployment overpayments

Meanwhile, the technological hiccups continue. On Friday, DWD announced it experienced a tech malfunction that disbursed double Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) direct deposit payments processed to 2,340 claimants on Wednesday. DWD only learned of the glitch when an honest claimant reported the overpayment.

FPUC is a new temporary supplemental benefit program created by the federal government that offers claimants an additional $600 per week. DWD is processing $425 million in retroactive weekly payments, with approximately $108 million processed successfully since Tuesday, according to the agency. Final payments are scheduled to be paid by May 7.

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