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Saturday, June 12th, 2021
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MADISON — More than a year after Gov. Tony Evers’ Department of Workforce Development failed to meet a historic unemployment crisis, the agency remains a den of incompetence and incivility, according to claimants stuck in the dysfunctional Unemployment Insurance system.

What’s more galling is that it was Evers’ lockdowns and local pandemic-related health restrictions that forced hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites out of work.

Despite billions of dollars in federal funding and DWD’s declaration to have cleared its massive unemployment backlog, the agency continues to mishandle claims, a press release from Sen. Alberta Darling’s office states. The River Hills Republican said her 8th Senate District constituents continue to complain that Evers’ DWD is unprofessional, rude, and still takes weeks to respond.

“My constituents are frequently citing unprofessional behavior by DWD representatives, with several documenting encounters with rude, untrained, non-responsive, and combative DWD staff. This is unacceptable,” Darling said. “My constituents are already in a tough spot and the Evers administration is making it worse.”

It appears little has changed at an agency where an adjudicator last summer told a long-waiting claimant that she would have to wait at least another two weeks for her claim to be resolved because the DWD employee was going on vacation.

Darling’s press release includes quotes from constituents who have experienced some of the more egregious treatment from the department.

  • “I need help getting my claim processed. I waited for April-September 2020 January-March 2021 and now again April 10-now. I can’t get a job without a working phone. I need to pay my bills, already experienced homelessness and bankruptcy.”
  • “It has been 9+ weeks and still nothing.”
  • “According to my portal, I am owed 26 weeks of UI…[I] was told if I didn’t like it then to contact my republican [legislators] and let them know how I feel because it’s their fault. This was just one instance of a lack of professionalism.”
  • “I am an unfortunate victim of DWD roadkill, called my unemployment claim that has been mismanaged since December 12, 2020. I waited a month and still have no new letter, I called DWD on January 12, 2021, for an update. I talked to the rudest person I can ever recall regarding the status of my unemployment claim. He was personally insulted for calling him (even gave me a lecture for doing so) and wasting his time. He was very demeaning, but I kept my composure, trying to find a solution.”

An audit from the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau last year showed the Evers administration wasn’t even answering the phone from people desperate to collect unemployment benefits. Only 0.5% of calls were answered from March to June of 2020, the audit found.

Sen. Dale Kooyenga’s office is receiving similar complaints from unemployed constituents. One claimant, a single mom, said she filed for unemployment in the first week of August. As of late spring, she was still waiting.

“She has been waiting since August to hear any update but is still stuck in adjudication. She has tried to contact them on several occasions. She is a single parent with a 7-year-old child who went virtual this school year. She says that she had to quit her job so he could go to school,” a report from Kooyenga’s office states.

Evers and Democrats have blamed old technology at DWD for the delays and connection problems. But unemployment claims have dropped to near-normal levels and the agency still can’t get its act together. Evers also has access to billions of dollars in federal COVID relief, a portion of which he could have been putting toward remedying DWD’s IT system. And the incompetence and poor customer service have little to do with old tech.

“The Governor is sitting on millions of dollars from the federal government, he has a non-partisan audit as a blueprint and months to implement changes,” Darling said, “Yet he still won’t fix his disastrous Department of Workforce Development. My constituents and everyone in the state deserve better.”

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