DWD asks for applicants’ patience as it adapts to high volume, pushes for repeal of one-week wait requirement

DWD 'chipping away' at applications under review

MADISON, Wis. – Many Wisconsin residents say they’re still struggling to get through to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development for Unemployment Insurance benefits as the department fields an unprecedented amount of applicants.

New data from the DWD shows that initial claims have risen by more than 1,600% in a recent three-week period compared to the same time frame last year. Between March 15 and April 6, the total number of new applications submitted for unemployment benefits was 313,068. That number was 17,748 in 2019.

“The fact that initial claims ballooned by more than 1,600% illustrates the unprecedented nature of this pandemic and its effect on our economy,” DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said in a statement.

In that three-week time period this year, the DWD distributed $68,759,104 worth of unemployment benefits.

To meet the increased need, Frostman said the department is recruiting dozens of staff members, keeping current employees working overtime and making IT improvements.

Now he wants the Wisconsin Legislature to make a move by repealing a one-week wait requirement, which means workers do not receive any benefits for the first week they’re out of work under state law.

“The sooner we can repeal that, the better,” Frostman said, adding that Wisconsin is one of eight states in the country that still has such a requirement in place.

Not only would repealing the one-week wait allow recipients up to $370 from the state for that week, but the federal government’s Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which allows for an additional $600 per week for those receiving benefits, would then be available for the first week of a claim as well.

“That could be $1,000 a week folks could have to pay their bills, to put groceries on the tabl, and also to support some of these essential local businesses that are still open, so of course (it’s important) for family economic stability, but also for our state’s overall economy,” Frostman said.

State benefits for the waiting week would be retroactive back to the week of March 12, and the federal benefits would pay for the waiting week starting March 29.

“That would mean we’d be able to pay the basic bills,” Afton resident Jessica Saynor said.

Saynor is between jobs after a new offer was rescinded a few weeks ago because of COVID-19.

“There was nothing they could do, no fault to anybody,” she said. “I had already left my other job and the new job was closed, so now I’m falling through the cracks with nothing.”

Her application has been pending for about three weeks, and every time she calls she receives a busy signal or automated message loop.

“Just for me personally, I simply want an update,” Saynor said. “I don’t need a deep conversation.”

“We certainly understand folks’ frustration,” Frostman said. “It’s a really unprecedentedly trying time.”

According to the DWD, in certain cases in which eligibility is in question, like if someone quit or was discharged from their place of employment, it must investigate before payments can be issued.

“We are asking for patience and understanding,” a DWD representative said in a statement. “We are tenaciously chipping away at the issues we must review.”

For now, Saynor feels stuck on hold.

“I’m grateful to what we do have, but it is going to run out,” she said. “It’s not going to last my family forever.”

Frostman said payments of the additional $600 a week from the federal government should start going out the week of April 26. Those receiving benefits already don’t need to do anything additional to receive that.

The department will start taking applications for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program which benefits those not eligible for state UI payments, such as self-employed workers, independent contractors and freelancers, starting around April 21.

Frostman encourages workers who can do so to apply online.