Empower Wisconsin | Aug. 21 2020
By MacIver Institute
MADISON — In early April, a single mom with three kids reached out to Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) desperate for help.
“I don’t know what else to do or who else to turn to,” she explained in the email.
As a waitress, she was thrown out of work on March 17 when Gov. Tony Evers lockdown shut down every restaurant in the state. Over three weeks had passed. The displaced waitress was still waiting for her first unemployment check from the Department of Workforce Development (DWD).
“The 1st of April I had to decide whether to pay my rent or feed my family and get them the personal hygiene products they need it was a difficult decision that until this point was never a problem for me,” she wrote.
When she tried to contact DWD about why it was taking so long to process her claims, “I am met with a recording that says they have reached the limit of callers they can place on hold and they end the call.”
Spreitzer immediately got back to the woman and learned that she had received information at the time of her claim that it could take DWD up to 21 days to determine her eligibility. She emailed him the day after those 21 days had elapsed.
Spreitzer emailed DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman to find out why his agency had yet to send his constituent her unemployment benefits. DWD’s legislative liaison, John Keckhaver, responded that the woman misunderstood what was meant by 21 days.
“The estimate that is given for resolution of those is 21 business days, which would be next Thursday,” he emailed back to Spreitzer and Frostman. “She’s being called and told this as well.”
Frostman was apparently happy with this result.
“Thank you for the thorough follow up. Much appreciated. I talked to Spreitzer this morning as well to clear up some other things (the same question his staffer had ahead of the legislative briefing), which I think went well,” Frostman wrote to Keckhaver in an email.
That email from Frostman might not seem like much, but it was the longest email he wrote concerning unemployment benefits between March 12 and April 12. In fact, Frostman only sent five emails on the topic during that month, according to DWD’s response to an open records request from MacIver News Service.
None of the Frostman emails contained any directions or guidance concerning the crisis.
In one email, Frostman forwarded a pre-drafted email from Keckhaver to Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac) about federal unemployment programs. In another, he sent a press release to Evers’ Chief of Staff Maggie Gau with no accompanying message.
The last two Frostman emails are especially telling. On March 19, DWD’s Deputy Secretary JoAnna Richard, notified him that unemployment claims were up by 70,000.
“This number will dramatically grow for next week,” Richard stated.
“Good flag and thanks for sending,” Frostman responded.
The email contained no other remarks, guidance, or instructions. Frostman did not send another email about unemployment benefits until a week later.
On March 26, Richard sent him the new unemployment numbers. They were up by 3 million nationwide.
“Holy Buckets!” Richard wrote.
Frostman’s only response was, “Holy buckets is right! Wowzers.”
Most of those claims would go unfulfilled for months. At a hearing in May, Frostman told lawmakers DWD would not get caught up on sending out unemployment checks until October, about the same time the trust fund goes dry.
Read more at the MacIver Institute.