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Waiting to be paid

By M.D. Kittle 

Wisconsin Spotlight | Sept 25, 2020 

MADISON — Nearly 6,500 Unemployment Insurance claimants have been waiting since March and April for the dysfunctional Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to resolve their claims, according to a review by the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau. 

The analysis was sought by state Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, Small Business, Tourism and Workforce Development. 

“In total, 6,487 claimants have unresolved eligibility issues for March and April claims,” the LFB memo states. 

As of Sept. 16, there were eight claimants who were still stuck in the system from March 31 or earlier. There were 395 claimants still in process from issues that arose on April 1 or later but the issue pertains to a payment for a March claim.

There were 1,912 claimants still waiting for resolution from April 30 or earlier, according to the memo. And there were 4,172 claimants with an eligibility issue that arose May 1 or later but pertains to payment for an April claim. 

“It’s just been a horrible failure to adapt at this point. I just hope it gets better,” Jacque said.

His office, like so many other legislative offices, continues to take frequent calls from out-of-work Wisconsinites seeking help with their claims. 

Tens of thousands of claimants face long wait times to get their unemployment benefits. 

“The problem we have still is this systemic problem. Wisconsin continues to be around the bottom 5 of all 50 states in getting claims paid out,” Jacque said. “We were the last state in the country to start payout of PUA (federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance).” 

Last week, the bottom fell out of the troubled Department of Workforce Development. Gov. Tony Evers asked for DWD Secretary-designee Caleb Frostman’s resignation, effective immediately. 

“People across our state are struggling to make ends meet, and it is unacceptable that Wisconsinites continue to wait for the support they need during these challenging times,” Evers said in a statement. The governor had supported his embattled DWD secretary until the bitter end, even as long-waiting claimants faced mounting debt, eviction, and desperation. 

“I was pretty surprised by the announcement of Frostman,” Jacque said. “They had doubled down in support of him and just blamed the Republican Party. This is an admission not only of failure, but of not responding to that failure for months.” 

As of Monday, DWD had paid out $3.75 billion in unemployment benefits. Nearly 705,000 weekly claims are in process, according to the latest DWD figures. That represents about 10.5 percent of the 6.73 million claims received since March. 

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