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Evers’ DWD still failing Wisconsin’s jobless

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Never accused of having a sense of urgency, the state Department of Workforce Development has issued yet another call for Evers administration employees to assist in resolving old Unemployment Insurance claims.

A recent email went out to all employees “who are in or have been in an Attorney, Paralegal, Legal Associate, Legal Secretary or related supervisory classifications” to assist with unemployment appeals and related hearings. The administration wants hearty souls from the departments of Administration, Financial Institutions, Transportation, Safety and Professional Services, Public Service Commission and DOA-attached agencies and boards.

DWD also needs “a few attorneys to act as administrative law judges.”

Transferred employees are to review Unemployment Insurance appeals, assist with preparation of electronic hearing files, process appeal decisions and monitor and manage various work queues.

“This work is remote, scheduled to start on March 1, and has an estimated duration of 3-6 months,” the email, obtained by Empower Wisconsin states. “While full time work is preferred, availability as low as 20 hours/week is possible as long as the first 2-3 weeks can be devoted to full time (40 hours/week) for necessary training.”

DWD has been notoriously slow in responding to staffing needs through the unemployment crisis that followed in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and Evers’ statewide lockdowns. Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites filed for Unemployment Insurance in the first wave in March and April. DWD was ill-prepared to handle the historic number of claims, and failed to quickly act to bring in needed staff and resources to help deal with the volume.

Republican lawmakers have repeatedly urged the governor to move employees with expertise in other state agencies to DWD while the crisis continues. It took the administration months to hire staff, transfer employees, and contract with call centers.

As of the the week ending Feb. 6, DWD reported nearly 15,000 initial claims and more than 104,000 regular claims.

In late December, DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek took a victory lap in announcing the agency was processing the final unemployment claims in the state’s nine-month backlog. She admitted 5,000 claimants were stuck in adjudication.

It appears, based on DWD’s call for help, a significnant number of claims remain stuck in adjudication. Knowing the problem long ago, why didn’t the agency send out the request earlier?

Because slow is how the Evers administration rolls, and thousands are paying for that lack of urgency.

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