By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — State Sen. Alberta Darling is demanding answers on the continued backlog at Gov. Tony Evers’ dysfunctional Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS).
The River Hills Republican sent a letter Tuesday to Dan Hereth, the agency’s acting secretary-designee, asking for an update on the plan to stop a licensing crisis long in the making.
Darling said the lengthy delays impacting untold numbers of professionals is the latest example of the Evers administration falling short for Wisconsin’s workforce.
“For the last year, constituents looking to keep or fill jobs in an already tight labor market were ignored by the DSPS,” Darling said, “They wait on hold for hours and end up getting dumped to voice mail. Often their checks were cashed months before they received an answer on why their license was still on hold. This is unacceptable.”
Empower Wisconsin has extensively reported on the license crisis, recording the accounts of dozens of professionals who have been stuck in bureaucratic limbo. The delays in professional credentials have been most dangerously pronounced in the health care sector. As Empower Wisconsin reported Tuesday, more than two-thirds of this spring’s graduating class of respiratory therapists had not received their licenses.
Alexis Cumber said she’s been waiting since February for her license application to be processed.
Cumber said she’s logged a lot of hours on the job as an assistant respiratory therapist. Her co-workers have struggled to keep up with the demands of a respiratory disease pandemic, exacerbated by a health care worker shortage and the failure of state regulators to deal with the crisis.
“We’re still dealing with COVID, and the fall (peak) season is coming up,” Cumber said. “It’s exhausting. I can name a huge hospital, they’re still 10 therapists short. They’re overworking the therapists to cover those hours.” Because she’s not licensed, Cumber is not able to work with the life-support units.
The license backlog has left health care workers, electricians, cosmetologists, you name it, waiting months, some more than a year, for their credentials.
When frustrated professionals waiting for their long-delayed licenses reach out to Evers’ office for help, they get an automatic email — a political screed blaming the Republican-controlled Legislature for Wisconsin’s licensing crisis.
“Since its creation in 2011, DSPS has been understaffed, underfunded, and under resourced, which has set the stage for the situation the agency finds itself in today. In short, DSPS is staffed at a dire level,” the email from Evers claims. It makes a lot of claims in a purely political, CYA message, including the charge that the “State Legislature has decided to take no action to resolve this situation…”
The Legislature in July 2021 set aside $5 million for system upgrades. DSPS officials did not seek the funding until recently. And Evers waited until early this year to allocate a portion of the billions of dollars he controls in federal COVID relief aid to deal with the backlog.
Two years into the licensing crisis, the DSPS customer service counter at its Madison headquarters was still only open until 12:30 p.m. daily.
“Not only are my constituents frustrated with the process of getting through to DSPS, but for some of my constituents who manage to communicate with DSPS staff, they have been told contradictory or inaccurate information and in some cases, been told no one can review their file and have been hung up upon,” Darling’s letter states. “This cannot continue, as it inhibits businesses and professionals looking to enter our workforce.”
Darling said she hopes the agency’s response will show they are closer to having this crisis under control.
“I am asking DSPS for their plan to help my constituents and workers throughout the state get the licenses they need to work,” the senator said, “I want the agency to know that their inaction is hurting everyone in our state.”
Darling notes the DSPS crisis is not the first time the Evers administration has failed to act efficiently for the people of Wisconsin. The Department of Workforce Development left thousands of unemployed Wisconsinites without the money they were owed.
“Like DSPS, people struggled to get ahold of someone at the agency. The non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau found that DWD didn’t even answer 93% of the phone calls made by people seeking information about their unemployment payments,” the senator’s press release states.
Read Sen. Darling’s letter here.