Weekly unemployment claim number continue decline, DWD secretary says pandemic shows need for upgrades

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin unemployment insurance office is continuing to see a declining number of people filing weekly claims, but problems for those filing haven’t necessarily cleared up.

This week the Department of Workforce Development reported weekly claims fell to around 23,000, down from 26,384 the week prior. It reported this is the ninth week in a row of gradual declines in regular unemployment initial applications.

Those collecting benefits have expressed their frustrations with getting benefits.

Matt Reynolds was a chef at Camp Randall before he was put out of work by the pandemic. He said he had multiple issues with the unemployment insurance office, and filing paperwork and appeals were all delayed.

“Between everything going on right now, it really makes me frustrated that we thought they were going to provide this service if something like this ever happened to us, and now that it’s happened, they clearly can’t handle the mere mass of us that need benefits to survive,” he said.

Department of Workforce Development Sec. Caleb Frostman said he understands the frustration.

Since the pandemic began, the department has hired hundreds to help, and now that they are trained, he’s hopeful that will alleviate some of the pain.

But even as weekly claims are dropping there are issues that need to be addressed in the long term – in the office and in the Capitol.

“The modernization coming out of the Great Recession, or lack thereof, I guess, that was one of the greatest lessons learned was the importance of modernizing the system,” Frostman said.

He also said people were confused in the process, trying to unpack the frequently asked questions and what exactly they needed to do.

Reynolds echoed that.

“Initially, if I had been able to talk to a human, a lot of my stuff probably wouldn’t have gotten to the point it got to,” he said.

If nothing else, Frostman hopes as his department works to pay claims now, changes, such as upgraded computer systems and a simplified process, can be made later.

“The lessons are so glaring that we’re hopeful the urgency and the collective desire to get that done happens,” he said.