Some Wisconsin workers continue to wait for unemployment funds weeks after applying
DE SOTO, Wis. (WKBT)– More than 313,000 Wisconsinites have applied for new unemployment benefits between March 15 and April 6, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. That’s nearly 18 times as many applications compared to the same time period last year.
“The fact that initial claims ballooned by more than 1600% illustrate the unprecedented nature of this pandemic and its effect on our economy,” Secretary Caleb Frostman said, in a statement. “The IT infrastructure of the UI division was not adequately modernized coming out of the Great Recession, which has forced DWD’s staff to work overtime, nights, and weekends to process unemployment claims to support out-of-work Wisconsinites.”
Still, some workers who have been laid off because of the pandemic are still waiting on payments weeks after their initial application. Rachel Rodriguez is one of them.
Rodriguez loved her job as an assistant manager at a women’s clothing store. But because of the coronavirus, her employer had to close due to state orders.
She said they gave her a few options and wanted to help her as much as they could. One of the options was to file for unemployment, which would just to get her through until they could reopen and re-hire her.
“I applied for unemployment the very next day,” Rodriguez said.
She got a letter that her claim was valid so she initially felt at ease. Rodriguez wasn’t getting what she’d be paid if she was working, but it was something for her and her kids to get by on.
“So still kind of rough but you know, it helps. Definitely,” she said.
But then, nothing. She kept checking the status online.
“It continued to say pending every week that I filed,” she said.
She would call the Department of Workforce Development’s call line as soon as they opened– right at 7:35 AM.
“It was immediately busy. Or, it would say we have reached the number of calls we can have on hold right now and we’re ending this call right now. Goodbye,” Rodriguez recalled.
When anyone goes on the agency’s website, a message immediately appears saying, “unless you have received official notification from Unemployment Insurance that you must call our call center, please search for your answer at dwd.wi.gov/covid19 or dwd.wi.gov/uiben/faqs in order to free up phone lines for folks who are required to call in.”
However, there is no answer on either page explaining how long it could take before someone receives payment or what they should do in this situation.
The state agency said during a Facebook Live it has reached 160 calls per second at times. It has staff working overtime on nights and weekends, has added more staff to its call center, and is hiring additional employees to work on tasks for claims and process paperwork. Specific, the agency said it has:
- Over 150 unemployment Insurance Division’s (UI) employees are working overtime.
- Trained and transferred 35 employees from another DWD division to assist the UI call center, with an additional 45 being trained for part-time assistance.
- Recruiting to hire 36 claim specialists.
- Hiring up to 25 positions to work on manual tasks that need to be performed on a claim and 60 limited-term employees to process paperwork.
- Assigned eight employees to make outgoing calls to applicants whose online applications required contact with DWD staff.
- Online claimants who were previously instructed to call DWD now receive a message that a claims specialist will call them back within five business days to assist them in completing their initial claim. These claim specialists have cleared more than 1,000 claims since this began on March 27.
- Successfully recruited UI retirees to return to DWD to help as limited-term employees.
All Rodriguez wanted to ask is if there was an issue or when to expect payment.
“Did I check the wrong box or something?” she said.
Finally, 22 days after she applied, she got her answer. She looked online Wednesday and found a new message.
“It does say that the funds are pending to be deposited,” she said.
But she has friends that are still waiting. Rodriguez feels Wisconsin can do better for the workers that followed the orders.
“If we’re asked to do something like stay home to be safe for our families, that we have some economic resources to be able to fall back on,” she said.
News 8 Now contacted the Department of Workforce Development multiple times about this issue. We wanted to ask what people should do if their claim has been accepted but have yet to receive payments. So far, we have not heard back from the agency.