Rising concerns of eviction after months on wait list for unemployment benefits

MADISON, Wis.– The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is reporting a lower volume of calls as it works through an influx of cases brought on during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some people are still waiting months for unemployment benefits and face the possibility of losing their homes.

Reginald Hill said he’s been waiting for 11 weeks, while his partner has been waiting 12 weeks.

“We have blown through $6,000, $7,000 of our savings. We worked hard for that to save up,” Hill said. “It’s all been sucked away, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Hill said his family has explored all resources since being furloughed from their jobs. Now, he said they are running out of options.

“Our cell phones got cut off today, because we can’t pay our bill. What’s next, our internet?” Hill said. “They’re homeschooled kids, and so if that happens they’re out of an education.”

Hill said he doesn’t have the money to pay rent come July.

“(Our landlord has) been very understanding. We’ve lucked out with that, but when it comes to the first of the month, he still has a mortgage to pay on his home,” Hill said. “We have no guarantees, you know. If he had to give us a five day notice or evict us, I can’t blame that man.”

There are many other families out there with a similar story to Hill’s.

“We’ve already seen the number of evictions climb as the courts are slowly reopening. We are seeing a large number of people facing evictions for just not being able to pay rent,” Legal Action Wisconsin attorney Erica Lopez said.

Lopez said she works with people facing evictions year-round and advises applying for community resources, adding that those take time that some people don’t have.

“People can apply for different sorts of funds in the community. That’s still not going to be enough. People need maybe four to six months of rent.,” Lopez said. “By the end of this, we will see an enormous increase (in evictions). I don’t think we know just how big it will be, but it’s going to be big.”

Hill said he’s hoping for answers from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, where adjudicators are working through a mountain of cases brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We do look at cases on a first come, first serve basis. So, when we have that influx of cases within that short period of time, we have a limited number of staff that are able to work on the actual adjudication process,” Program and Policy Analyst in the Unemployment Insurance Division Emily Savard said. “Even thought everybody would have loved to pay out benefits immediately to people when they lost their jobs, we still have to follow those rules and laws. We’ve been reminded by the Department of Labor that we can’t take any shortcuts.”

Legal Action Wisconsin said there are a variety of resources available to help people in situations like Hill’s. News 3 Now is digging into how those resources are available to help.