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Republicans offer temporary solution for unemployment backlog, as DWD announces more staffing

Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 6:43 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WSAW) -

Wisconsin republicans offered a temporary solution Wednesday for people waiting months for unemployment benefits, challenging Gov. Tony Evers to take more action. The same day, the Department of Workforce Development released an update on the progress of its work toward eliminating the backlog in claims.

In a press conference, Assembly majority leader, Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) said 140,000 people are still waiting on unemployment, some waiting more than three months to get benefits. Republicans are suggesting Gov. Evers use the more than $280 million remaining CARES Act money for 0% interest, forgivable bridge loans so people who have yet to receive benefits can at least have the minimum unemployment to get by in the meantime.

“According to the fiscal bureau, if $40 million were used of the $280 million remaining (CARES Act dollars), more than 30,000 claimants would receive $327 per week for up to four weeks to help them bridge that gap,” he stated.

He suggested that the money be funneled through the Department of Revenue so DWD could continue processing claims and when it has finished processing claims, and remaining CARES Act money could be used for other COVID-19 related needs or put into the unemployment trust fund to help keep that solvent.

Steineke also offered that DWD should pre-pay benefits and presume that people applying are eligible.

“A few weeks into this crisis, it’s understandable. You know, an influx of new claims overwhelms the system, but we’re now four months into this and the best we’ve heard from the Evers Administration is, ‘people just have to be patient.’ Well, people can’t be patient when they’re losing their apartments and can’t put food on the table and they can’t cloth their kids,” he said.

DWD stated in a press release it has more than tripled its staff since March from about 500 to 1,700. Training, however, takes one to four weeks depending on the position.

“It’s one thing to answer a call, but it’s another to be able to actually assist claimants and resolve complicated eligibility issues,” DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said.

It also has increased the number of calls answered since March and incrementally. The week of June 29, for example, the call center was able to answer 60% more calls compared to the week of June 1. Over 11 weeks, 240,864 calls have been answered and from March 15 through July 4, has processed 3,969,830 claims. Of the total claims processed, it stated nearly 87% or 3.4 million have been paid or denied. The rest are waiting on things like wage verification, adjudication, or other investigations.

“While we are required by law to determine eligibility before we pay benefits, we know the time it takes to investigate eligibility issues that hold up some claims creates incredible hardship on those people who are relying on UI to pay their bills,” Frostman said. “With the additional staff, we are reducing the time it takes to process verification documents, investigate issues raised by claimants and employers, and get the benefits out the door.”

The most common eligibility issues it listed were separation issues from a previous job, wage information to figure out how much a person can get weekly (it noted “it may take multiple attempts for the department to get this information”), and wage holds for things like conflicting information between the person applying and what previous employers report.

DWD gave an example of what a separation issue may look like:

Jane Claimant quit her job at ABC Company 10 months ago because she didn’t like her employer. Even though Jane worked for XYZ Co. after quitting ABC Co. (and was laid off from XYZ Co. due to COVID) DWD still needs to investigate that quit from ABC Company. An adjudicator needs to talk to Jane Claimant, her employer at ABC Co., potentially her employer at XYZ Co., and any other relevant third party. If there is conflicting information, the adjudicator talks to whomever is needed to resolve that conflict. Everyone the adjudicator talks to has a minimum of 48 business hours to respond to the adjudicator. After all information is gathered, the adjudicator looks at the law to see if Jane Claimant would be allowed benefits or denied benefits, and, if allowed, whether ABC Co. will be charged for any portion of benefits paid. If Jane Claimant is denied, the adjudicator has to see if Jane Claimant earned enough wages from XYZ Co. to again be able to receive unemployment benefits (i.e. met requalifying requirements after the quit.)

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