Empower Wisconsin | July 10, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Assembly Republicans are calling on Gov. Tony Evers to use federal funding to help tens of thousands of out-of-work Wisconsinites stuck in the Evers administration’s nightmarish Unemployment Insurance claims system.
Meanwhile, a Republican state senator is set to introduce legislation that would put the Department of Workforce Development’s UI division on a seven-day work week until the massive backlog of claims is cleared.
Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and his Assembly Republican colleagues held press conferences around the state this week to urge Evers to use a portion of the federal CARES Act funds at his disposal to make direct payments or bridge-loans to those awaiting adjudication.
“We need to do more to help people who have been waiting weeks or even months for unemployment benefits after losing their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Vos said in a press release. “People are tired of waiting for the Evers administration to get its act together and we’re all tired of the administration’s excuses. There are families who are struggling to get by and they need help now.”
Empower Wisconsin and Wisconsin Spotlight have profiled the stories of workers displaced by the pandemic and Evers’ statewide lockdown, each sharing the mess they encountered at DWD.
“Me, as an individual, I live by myself. I have no money coming in,” Carol Glupker, 60, of Milwaukee, recently told Wisconsin Spotlight. She filed her first claim with DWD more than three months ago. “I have depleted all of my savings account, all my 401(k). I have nothing left anymore.”
The Legsislative Fiscal Bureau reported there are $280 million in CARES Act funds still available. It’s estimated if $40 million were to be used to help nearly 11,000 individuals, each could receive a loan of $3,708, which would be paid back once the UI claim was fulfilled, Vos said.
“Hundreds of people have called my office, frustrated with the UI process,” the speaker said. “Our plan is a simple and creative way that people could get help to pay their bills and feed their families. They can’t afford to wait any longer.”
State Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) said he appreciates the initiative of his Assembly colleagues, but the Legislature shouldn’t need to create a new program to “fix the problems of an ineffective administration.”
“For months, Governor Evers and (DWD) Secretary (Caleb) Frostman have had the ability to transfer staff from other state agencies and redirect federal CARES Act funding towards fixing this problem,” Kapenga said. “Yet, nearly four months later, people continue to wait for weeks on end and still cannot get in touch with anyone at the department.”
So the senator said he will introduce legislation that requires DWD to expand its call center hours to seven days a week until claims have caught up.
“This is the least the agency can do to ensure people get the help that they need during these difficult times,” he said.