Federal pandemic unemployment benefits are about to end: Here’s what to know in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development says pending claims for weeks before September 5 will still be paid out for each week that they're eligible.

Update: The Department of Workforce Development tells News 3 Now that individuals who apply by October 6, 2021 for regular unemployment benefits for pandemic job losses, but are later denied, will have 21 days following the denial to apply for PUA benefits to cover jobless periods through the program’s end date on September 4, 2021.

MADISON, Wis. — As the Delta variant continues to surge in Wisconsin and across the country, several federal unemployment benefit programs put in place last year to help people deal with the effects of the pandemic are set to expire this weekend.

In addition to the extra $300 weekly benefit added on to state-level benefits, several other programs are set to expire on September 4, including Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA),  the second of which provided benefits to those who wouldn’t normally be eligible like gig workers, self-employed, and people who quit their job to care for children or health concerns related to the pandemic.

Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development says pending claims for weeks before September 5 will still be paid out for each week that they’re eligible.

The benefits are ending amid an ongoing backlog of appeals in Wisconsin, as well as rising claims of overpaid benefits leaving people potentially thousands of dollars in debt for mistakes many say weren’t made clear to them by the state.

How many people are using them?

About 7.5 million people nationwide will lose their federal benefits, according to the New York Times., with millions of others who will remain on state-level unemployment benefits but see the extra $300 from the federal government get cut from their weekly check.

In Wisconsin, far fewer people are filing initial claims for unemployment than at this point last year, with 6,781 new initial claims filed the week ending August 28. Another 47,832 people filed an ongoing weekly claim, down from 149,573 people at this time in 2020.

But while that’s far fewer people than in 2020, the number of people on unemployment benefits remains roughly twice as high as pre-pandemic levels, according to state data. For the last week of August in 2019, there were just 3,787 new claims and 23,279 ongoing claims.

Can states prolong these benefits themselves?

The Biden Administration has encouraged governors who still have a high unemployment rate in their state to use their federal COVID relief funds to extend programs like PUA.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development said that at this time, the state is not considering extending those programs.

“While these federal programs have provided an important backstop for those experiencing the loss of jobs and income during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin’s economy continues to recover and now is a good time for unemployed individuals to continue or expand their job search,” Jennifer Sereno said in a statement.

26 states, all with Republican governors, ended the extra federal unemployment benefit earlier this summer. Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill that would have ended the extra $300 benefit early in June, which Gov. Evers vetoed.

What is Wisconsin’s current unemployment rate?

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has largely bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, according to the state’s latest data. In July, the unemployment rate remained steady at 3.9%, just slightly above the 3.5% rate in February 2020 just before the pandemic hit Wisconsin.

Since May, people drawing unemployment benefits are required to make four work searches a week to stay eligible; on Thursday, Wisconsin’s Job Center dashboard listed 117,442 open jobs statewide.

In Wisconsin, additional factors are contributing to an ongoing labor shortage, like an overall aging workforce and many people who have been unable to return to work for a variety of issues. Wisconsin’s Center for Investigative Journalism talked to several of these people for whom barriers like child care, poor wages for available jobs, transportation, and a mismatch of opportunities for skillsets have continued to delay a new career.

Are there any available extensions?

While the federal programs end September 4, the DWD confirmed on Saturday that applications for PUA can be accepted through October 6, 2021 for periods of time they were jobless through September 4.

That deadline, however, will be extended for those who apply for regular unemployment benefits by October 6 but are later denied. For people still waiting on a decision for a UI claim and haven’t filed for PUA, this means they’ll have a 21-day window down the road to get PUA benefits if they’re denied regular benefits.

“Individuals who apply for UI by 10/06/21 and are denied UI will have 21 days to apply for PUA after their UI denial determination is mailed,” Sereno told News 3.

My benefit payments are still delayed. What should I do?

Madison-area employment attorney Victor Forberger, who has been inundated with unemployment cases during the pandemic, recommends that anyone whose benefits have been delayed or rejected–no matter what program–to ensure they’ve submitted an appeal or objection. Currently, thousands are still waiting on appeals for pandemic-era claims.

If someone isn’t sure whether they have an objection (which has to be filed before an initial determination paves the way for an appeal) Forberger recommends they file another one.

“Right now, file your objections, file your appeals. If it’s sitting on your desk, file it,” Forberger urged. “If you’re waiting for a hearing, still waiting for a claim to be processed, unsure what’s going on–file a backup PUA claim,” Forberger said. “Do it now.”

I’ve been searching for a job without any luck. What should I do?

The state recommends several resources for job searches, including:

Additionally, jobless individuals may be eligible for additional benefits instead, such as:

  • FoodShare, housing assistance, child care assistance, or BadgerCare (Medicaid)
  • Claimants can determine what they may be eligible for by applying for benefits through the DHS website: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov.
  • For individuals without internet access: check your local County Social Service Agency by looking up your county’s contact information from the DHS Website

Are you about to lose federal unemployment benefits but have been unable to return to the workforce? Are there barriers you’ve faced to returning to work? If you’re interested in sharing your story, we can be reached at news3investigates@wisctv.com