The Government Accountability Office found white applicants in Wisconsin received federal pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) benefits at twice the rate of black claimants. American Indian and Hispanic applicants were also much less likely to receive PUA payments than white claimants.
“Issues ramping up the new program to meet urgent, immense demand meant some claimants went months without income. We also found racial disparities in who received benefits in 3 of 4 states we analyzed, e.g., Black applicants were half as likely to obtain benefits as White applicants in 2 states,” the GAO report states, noting Wisconsin and North Dakota.
The watchdog reviewed Wisconsin, North Dakota, New York and Louisiana.
According to the report, DWD awarded 22 percent of black PUA claimants benefits compared to 43 percent of whites. The rate was 27 percent for American Indian claimants, and 25 percent for Hispanic filers.
The federal unemployment program was directed to self-employed and part-time workers. PUA also was created to help those who lost jobs for reasons directly related to the pandemic but who would not otherwise qualify for benefits.
“Various factors could explain the disparities, and the data we analyzed did not allow us to examine potential causes,” the agency wrote in the report. “If the underlying causes of inequities in PUA receipt are systemic or indicative of insufficient program integrity controls, they may also affect the regular UI program,” GAO notes.
Nathan Conner Sr. finally received the unemployment benefits he applied for after months of waiting and rejection.
The black man and his 6-year-old daughter were staying in a dumpy motel room in Green Bay because his savings ran out after the pandemic and Evers’ sweeping lockdowns hit. Conner was laid off from his factory job. He couldn’t make rent at his apartment and the father and daughter were on a waiting list for homeless shelters.
“I’ve pretty much exhausted any savings I had. My credit cards are maxed out … It’s heartbreaking,” he told Wisconsin Spotlight in late July 2020. “When I look at my kid and tell her, ‘No, we can’t do this, or we can’t do that.’ I can’t even tell her why. I don’t want to worry her. A 6-year-old shouldn’t have to carry all this around.”
Tens of thousands of out-of-work Wisconsinites were stuck waiting for months for their unemployment benefits. Evers finally fired his incompetent DWD secretary six long months after the fiasco began, but instead of taking responsibility he laid the blame on inadequate technology in the state’s unemployment system.
The GAO report does note that states faced “IT and staffing challenges, among others, which contributed to payment delays.” But the Evers administration appears to have done little to prepare for the flood of unemployment claims caused by lockdowns and forced closures of “non-essential” businesses. The administration failed to bring in enough employees to staff DWD; consequently, frustrated claimants waited on hold for hours at a time to reach anyone who could help.
And the problems persist even as the unemployment crisis has long since abated.
Jaime Swan has waited more than two years for DWD to pay her the approximately $7,000 it owes her. Over her long ordeal, Swan says she has been ignored, insulted, pushed around and lied to. She’s been on the verge of eviction, she lost her phone service, and had her electricity shut off.
She won two appeals, yet DWD officials refuse to pay.
“They said I shouldn’t expect my money, that the case is too complicated and no one wants to deal with it,” Swan told Wisconsin Spotlight.
The racial disparities in DWD’s administration of the PUA program contradict the Evers administration’s obsession with liberal “equity” policies.
DWD spokeswomen Jennifer Sereno told News 3 the agency “strives to make Wisconsin a fair and just place for all people to live and work. This includes eliminating racial and ethnic disparities while advancing equity and economic opportunity through workforce development.”
The GAO report finds otherwise.