The Brillion News
MADISON - The state Department of Workforce Development said, on May 27, that it began issuing determinations of eligibility and payments under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program on Thursday, May 21.
The slow delivery of the money has drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers blaming the DWD under Secretary Caleb Forstman, and counter-criticisms from Democratic lawmakers saying it is the fault of the Republican-led legislature.
Frostman defended the delays in issuance of checks.
"Due to PUA being a brand-new federal program and in order to ensure accurate payments, DWD conducted additional testing prior to deployment. While understanding the potential impacts of a minor delay in deployment, we felt it prudent and responsible to prevent any widespread issues that could cause even greater delays and hardship," Frostman said. "We understand many claimants have been patiently waiting for PUA. Please know that DWD is committed to paying out eligible benefits as fast as possible."
State Senator Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, said on Wednesday (May 27) that it wasn't good enough.
<< Secretary Caleb Frostman
"Months after the Safer at Home order sent our State’s economy into a tailspin, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites still haven’t seen any assistance. I’ve heard from countless people who have bills piling up, are facing eviction, or worse; skipping meals in order to provide for their children. It is heartbreaking and completely unacceptable," Feyen said. "We continue to hear the same story coming from the Department of Workforce Development and the Governor’s Office. We are making progress, they say. We just need time and patience. How much patience can we expect people to have?"
Senator Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, blamed the Republicans for not improving the Unemployment Compensation system.
"Republicans have spent the last decade doing everything possible to make it harder to get unemployment benefits," Erpenbach said. "The non-partisan Legislative Council compiled a list of changes to Unemployment under Republican control. It shows that instead of working to improve access to benefits that Wisconsinites have earned, Republicans would rather assume fraud and create tripwires for Wisconsinites who work for a living. Republicans put into place more than a dozen new hurdles in just eight years that Wisconsinites have to jump over in order to receive the benefits they have earned."
Feyen said that's not true.
"I have spoken with Secretary Caleb Frostman multiple times and emailed him again today, offering my help, asking if there was anything needed legislatively to speed up the process, the answer has been a consistent 'no',” Feyen said.
After a hearing on Wednesday afternoon, state Senator Van Wynggaard said it could be months before all the check are delivered.
While testifying before the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform, officials with the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) stated that the current backlog of unemployment claims likely wouldn’t be cleared until August and possibly as late as October.
“I appreciate Secretary Caleb Frostman and the other experts testifying today about the problems in the unemployment system,” said Wanggaard, R-Racine. “The information we received was at times sobering and completely unacceptable, but it’s important that the information be publicized.”
Besides the unemployment claim backlog lasting for another 3-5 months, other discoveries at the committee hearing included:
The Department of Workforce Development unapologetic refusal to expand call center hours beyond 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
An apparent complete lack of communication between Governor Evers’ office and the Department of Workforce Development;
The Department of Workforce Development doing virtually nothing to prepare for the inevitable rise in unemployment benefits prior to Governor Evers’ “Safer-at-Home” order, and reacting slowly to add staffing capabilities;
The Department of Workforce Development stating it didn’t begin programming to administer the supplemental 13-weeks of unemployment payment prior to a couple of days ago.
“I’ve been saying it for weeks. People need help now. Not weeks or months from now. They need it today, now.” said Wanggaard. “Not clearing the unemployment backlog until August or October is completely unacceptable. How is anyone supposed to last that long without any income?”
Wanggaard said he understands that DWD was overwhelmed.
"The influx of claims is a situation that few could have handled regardless of resources,” Wanggaard said. “But there comes a point when you need to make progress, and need to stem the tide. I’m glad that DWD will be adding staff, adjudicators and call centers to help with the situation in the next couple of weeks. But this is like the little Dutch boy putting a finger in the dam after the town has flooded.”