Empower Wisconsin | June 18, 2020.
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — As bad as the Department of Workforce Development’s unemployment insurance debacle has been, it’s about to get worse.
DWD bureaucrats have told lawmakers it could be a month or more before they can get unemployment checks to the people who have sought help from legislative offices.
Every day seems to get worse for thousands of Wisconsin workers displaced by the pandemic and Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide lockdowns.
“I applied 4 unemployment in April, for March weeks. (N)ever received a payment or even a determination. I have called daily 25 times a day.Talked to 2 people. (T)hey didn’t know anything. Now my home is at risk for foreclosure. (W)ithout the funds quickly I’ll be homeless, 2 LATE 2 WAIT,” tweeted Empower Wisconsin Twitter follower Suzie Lazka on Wednesday.
I applied 4 unemployment in April,for March weeks never received a payment or even a determination. I have called daily 25 times a day.Talked to 2 people they didn't know anything. Now my home is at risk for foreclosure without the funds quickly I'll be homeless.
2 LATE 2 WAIT
— Susan Laska (@SuzieLaska) June 17, 2020
As of Monday, there were about 151,000 individual claimants waiting for unemployment benefits or an administrative decision from DWD. Some 860,000 jobless claims had yet to be paid.
Another filer said he’s been waiting two months to have DWD resolve some simple issue regarding his claims.
“At this point, my savings are gone, even though I’m due over $6,000 in accumulated claims,” the man, who identified himself as Greg, said. “Thousands of Wisconsinites are suffering the threat of eviction, and the inability to pay their bills.”
DWD this week told lawmakers that it is finally “pulling out those inquiries from the caseload that appear to have the most urgent needs, including impending evictions, for example, and expediting those if possible.” Why that wasn’t happening weeks ago isn’t clear.
Agency officials acknowledge they receive hundreds and, in many cases, thousands of constituent inquiries weekly from legislative offices regarding unemployment insurance.
“The time it takes from submission of a constituent inquiry to your receiving a description of the resolution or a status update for those still in adjudication has increased, to approximately 4 to 5 weeks in most cases,” DWD recently wrote in a letter to lawmakers. Early on, it seemed claimants who took their concerns and complaints to their legislators received a much faster resolution — in many cases, one to two weeks.
DWD says claims are moving faster since it signed contracts with two outside call centers.
“(T)he number of calls into the call centers has decreased significantly as more calls have been answered, issues have been resolved, and claimants have received their UI benefits,” the agency reports. Or, perhaps, too many have given up.
As of this week, DWD still hadn’t gotten around to helping Jennifer Robertson, who told Wisconsin Spotlight she is going on three months without resolution of her claims, which she originally filed on March 24.
“I’m on the brink of losing everything,” she said, sobbing. “I’m trying to keep optimistic and positive, I try not to get real down,” she said. “But I’m going through my belongings to sell stuff so I have some cash — clothes, shoes. Maybe I can make $5, $10, $15.
“I’m going to lose everything because my state doesn’t give a shit about me,” she said.
Some lawmakers have lost patience.
State Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), who led a hot seat Assembly hearing late last month on the dysfunction at DWD, is calling on Unemployment Insurance Administrator Mark Reihl to step down or be pushed out.
“For weeks, it has been evident that the poor leadership provided by Mark Reihl in his duty to manage the unemployment insurance program has greatly harmed many citizens of this state in receiving vital benefits in a timely manner,” Nass said in a statement. “His disastrous management continues today impacting more than 151,000 claimants that still have not received benefits or an explanation for denial.”