Claims and phone calls

Claims have sky-rocketed in the past few weeks, and the Department of Workforce Development has been providing daily updates on these numbers:

Before pandemic claims started

Week 11    2020  2019   ratio
Sunday      746   948   0.8
Monday    1,237  1,376  0.9
Tuesday     809   811   1.0
Wednesday   674   738   0.9
Thursday    710   711   1.0
Friday      985   786   1.3
Saturday    537   217   2.5
Totals    5,698 5,587   1.0

When pandemic claims started

Week 12    2020  2019   ratio 
Sunday    1,499   826   1.8 
Monday    4,392  1,329  3.3
Tuesday   8,603   818   10.5
Wednesday 14,988  725   20.7
Thursday  16,252  703   23.1
Friday    17,094  789   21.7
Saturday   6,514   26   250.5
Totals    69,342 5,216  13.3

Second week of claims

Week 13    2020  2019   ratio
Sunday    10,872  963   11.3
Monday    21,250 1,412  15.0
Tuesday   18,638  918   20.3
Wednesday 19,438  699   27.8
Thursday  19,489  672   29.0
Friday    18,386  748   24.6
Saturday   7,606  228   33.4
Totals   115,679 5,640  20.5

Third week of claims

Week 14    2020  2019   ratio
Sunday    12,136  878   13.8
Monday    24,664 1,248  19.8
Tuesday           859   0.0
Wednesday         642   0.0
Thursday          679   0.0
Friday            709   0.0
Saturday          158   0.0
Totals    36,800 5,173  7.1

Claims for week 11 were nearly identical to what was filed last year. Starting with week 12, however, claims started escalating and took off on Wednesday of that week. Nearly 70,000 claims ended up being filed then.

The trend continued into week 13. Nearly 116,000 initial claims were filed that week, over 20x greater than the claims filed for that same week in 2019.

Note: March and April are typically when initial unemployment claims are at their lowest, as many workers are returning to jobs after seasonal layoffs because of winter.

As evident here, yesterday saw the highest number of claims filed on any day so far, almost 25,000 in one day.

The question for all of us is for how long will this increase in claims continue. The evidence so far is that is that this spike is likely to be ongoing. The Department reports that during week 13 the Department received more than 1.5 million calls.

Despite statements by Department officials, there does NOT appear to be any automated phone system in place for people to file their unemployment claims by phone. The only information so far is how to apply on-line. And, the Department’s FAQ for applying for benefits states only provides this information:

Q: How do I apply?

A: Steps to Apply Online
1. Go to my.unemployment.wisconsin.gov
2. Read and accept Terms and Conditions
3. Create a username and password
4. Logon to access online benefit services
5. Complete your application

Folks are calling into the Department help lines, however, because the on-line system is complicated and difficult to use (an initial claim usually takes an hour to complete and can take several hours and multiple sessions to complete if there are any wrinkles to that claim). This complexity may work well when the system is hardly being used, but complexity gets in the way of a mass need in light of this pandemic.

So, folks are turning to phone lines reserved for assisting claimants with their on-line claims. And, this turn to phone calls is occurring in massive numbers, roughly 15x times than the already record number of initial claims being filed.

The Department’s request for people to use the on-line system does not fix this problem. People are turning to these phone lines because they either lack access to the on-line system in the first place or because they cannot navigate the on-line system despite having access to it.

Note: While closed, public libraries are keeping their wifi on. So, cars in parking lots in rural Wisconsin are now pretty common despite the libraries being closed. We all love our libraries. The Public Service Commission and the Department of Public Instruction have introduced a web-link for finding free wifi hot-spots in Wisconsin.

And, the phone system is also making matters worse [see update below]. Claimants are reporting that the social security number gatekeeper to phone support remains in place. Under this system, claimants are limited to only calling into the Department for help on certain days, depending on whether their social security number ends in an even or odd digit. So, claimants are calling on their wrong day, entering in their social security number, and then being kicked out but not realizing the reason why. So, they call again and again.

In other words, these claims will continue to climb, because there are still more folks trying to file an initial claim than those who have gotten through.

Furthermore, the Wisconsin Policy Forum indicates that the job losses in Wisconsin because of this pandemic are already devastating (25 to 30% unemployment in some counties) and have hit low-wage workers in rural areas of the state the hardest.

Unemployment may well be the only economic engine in this state for the next several months. The Department needs to realize its essential role sooner rather than later.

Update (2 April 2020): My sources within the Department report that the social security number gatekeeper was removed several months ago. So, people are getting disconnected simply because the phone-support system is being crushed with all the calls.

My insiders also report that many of the calls concern ID and password problems with the on-line system. Claimants do not recall their specific ID and password information and cannot get the answers to security questions right. So, they need to call to get on-line access and passwords reset after verifying their identity to staffers.

To handle all of these calls, staffers are now handling phone calls (if not their regular job to begin with) every other work day.

Also, my sources indicate that those who lack on-line access now have the option of filing their claim on the phone with the assistance of a DWD staffer on the phone. The problem right now is getting through on the phone, however.

Update (15 April 2020): The PIN reset issue for people who previously filed for unemployment benefits has been a major problem in many states. The solution for many, like in Wisconsin, requires that the worker contact an agency representative by phone to reset the PIN number, which then contributes to a backlog on the phones as well. Washington state has put in place an easier fix for resetting a workers’ PIN.

Update (17 April 2020): Added a web-link from PSC and DPI for finding free wifi hot-spots.

 

9 thoughts on “Claims and phone calls

  1. When do we get our extra $600 on her unemployment checks that the Congress passed? The bill specifically says we get four weeks of extra pair which includes the extra $600 and the extra pay would start April and the automated system said it could take weeks to upload so you better get backpay right otherwise the bills away and the government is given the state of Wisconsin and all other states extra money and they cannot to stick it in their pockets I need to go to the American people please reply if there’s going to be back pay

    • I meant to say we get four extra months that ends in July so that Hass to start in the beginning of April and since we are not going to get it this week it Hass to be back pay correct

    • My post on the CARES act covers PUA (UI for folks who do not qualify for regular UI, like gig/mis-classified workers of workers also receiving SSDI benefits), PUC (the $600 extra per week), and PEUC (13 weeks of extended benefits related to the pandemic and after 26 weeks of regular UI or PUA benefits are exhausted).

      PUC benefits will only start when you apply and for the weeks you claim. So, folks on regular UI will eventually receive PUC benefits back-dated to this week (if they have a claim for this week).

      Folks eligible for PUA benefits, on the other hand, will be out of luck, since they cannot file a claim just yet. And, the Department is indicating that PUA-eligible folks will not be able to file a claim for several more weeks. Sigh.

  2. Pingback: Implementing CARES act unemployment provisions | Wisconsin Unemployment

  3. I received a letter from Unemployment staring that I need to call them within 5 days (they need more info) or benefits will be denied.

    I made literally 200 consequent phone calls and was not able to get through. The letter gave a phone number (different from the main number). No way to get through. You listen to the entire prerecorded message then the line disconnects. The main number is also impossible to get through. This is just terrible.
    Claimants do not have any access other than 2 phone numbers. There is no email address etc. oh yes and if you call after hours, your asked to leave a message with your phone number. However, the phone disconnects. There is absolutely no way to get through

    • Mary, best advice I can give at the moment is to contact your state rep or state senator and inform them of your problems. Gov. Evers’ office should probably also know about your problems. To find your local reps: https://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/ . Yes, these phone problems are awful and in part due to an overly complicated process that makes UI claims as complicated as filing income tax returns (though if you make a mistake on your taxes, you only have to pay the difference and are rarely charged with fraud as happens much too often with UI claims).

  4. Pingback: Filing problems in Wisconsin are not new | Wisconsin Unemployment

  5. Pingback: Pandemic claims are not going away | Wisconsin Unemployment

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