Wisconsin Spotlight | Oct. 30, 2020
MADISON — Miracles do happen. Sometimes they just need a little help from ticked-off lawmakers.
After more than eight months waiting for her Unemployment Insurance payments, Brittney Gitzlaff finally got paid.
“I was shocked,” the 33-year-old Menomonee Falls mother of three told Wisconsin Spotlight on Thursday, the same day she received notice that her late payments have been released.
She said she got a call on Tuesday from a state Department of Workforce Development claims processor who said the agency had “strict orders” to work on her claim until it was paid.
The phone call came the same day four southeast Wisconsin lawmakers sent a second letter urging Gov. Tony Evers’ DWD to settle the claims of long-waiting claimants like Gitzlaff. They said a previous letter last week was ignored by the governor and his administration.
“Hundreds of constituents who followed the rules and have waited more than half a year are still waiting to hear from your administration,” the lawmakers’ second letter states.” These are real families, facing real crisis, and such is the case for Brittney Gitzlaff of Menomonee Falls. Due to the urgency of this situation, we expect you to reply as soon as possible.”
“Like our constituents, we anxiously await your reply.”
State Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), who originally intervened on Gitzlaff’s behalf, was happy for her constituent but frustrated that it took so long to settle her UI claims.
“It’s disgusting that it took 20 emails and two hand-delivered letters to the governor for Brittney to get what she was owed,” Brandtjen said.
As Empower Wisconsin first reported earlier this month, Gitzlaff, a mother of three young children, says she filed her first Unemployment Insurance claim in mid-March, after the Evers administration ordered Wisconsin’s schools closed in advance of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gitzlaff, like a lot of parents, stayed home to take care of her young children, two of whom were forced to attend school virtually because of the governor’s stay-at-home order.
Under emergency rules, workers who have to provide care to a loved one because of COVID-19 are eligible for unemployment benefits.
An audit last month found that nearly 6,500 claimants had been waiting since April or March for the Department of Workforce Development to resolve their claims.
Evers asked DWD Secretary-designee Caleb Frostman to step down last month — after seven months of failure. A state audit quickly followed showing 93.3 percent of the 41.1 million phone calls made to DWD’s call centers during this year’s flood of unemployment claims were blocked or received busy signals.
Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary Amy Pechacek was tapped to lead the transition until the new secretary is appointed.