‘They can’t tell me anything’: 63K Wisconsinites wait in unemployment backlog

MADISON, Wis. — More than 63,000 Wisconsinites are still waiting to hear anything back on their unemployment insurance claim.

They are stuck in an adjudication backlog the Department of Workforce Development has been trying to clear since the pandemic began.

Teri Kalagian joined that group when she lost her job in July.

“They can’t tell me anything,” she said of calling the unemployment insurance office. “They can’t pass me on to adjudication. They just tell me, ‘sorry, you just have to wait.’”

Kalagian worries the way she filled out the paperwork has landed her in adjudication. She said there wasn’t an option to mark her reason for losing her job – reduction in staff – on the form, so instead she put “terminated.” She thinks that landed her in adjudication.

“I’ve called a couple times and nobody can tell me anything,” she said. “You can’t talk to adjudication. You can’t get to them at all. There’s the front line. All they can tell you is that’s where it’s sitting.”

Her story is like a lot of others in a lot of ways.

While the Department of Workforce Development said 93% of claims since March have been resolved, that still leaves 542,784 claims waiting for an answer.

Unlike some others, Kalagian said she can lean on her husband, who has been able to keep his job. She also starts a new job on Monday.

“For those that are single, don’t have that support, don’t have that support system, I can’t even imagine being in their shoes,” she said. “So I just kind of sit and think, ‘it could be worse.’ But it still sucks.”

The DWD said they have added staff – new people or transfers within state government. A spokesperson also told News 3 Now over email they are improving their process by improving applications so people don’t make as many mistakes and allowing adjudicators to contact employers electronically.

With the backlog of claims still thousands deep, Kalagian worries about people who are just joining the system now.

“If they’re just starting now and they’re still that backed up, they’re probably not going to get anything until next year,” she said. “And it shouldn’t be that way.”

She doesn’t know the solution, but she wishes it were different.

“We have emergency plans for so many different things,” Kalagian said. “Why wasn’t there some sort of, ‘if this happened,’ not even a pandemic, but ‘if there was some catastrophe that happened, what do we do?’”

A department spokesman said the DWD is working with the governor on how to fund a full upgrade to their IT systems. That’s expected to cost millions, but they said it can speed up the time it takes to start new programs.