Wisconsin Watch reviews the stories of several claimants facing incredibly long delays in the processing of their unemployment claims.
Some perspective, however, is needed on what these stories reveal.
First, the story reports that around 150,000 claimants are still waiting for their claims to be decided. The May 2020 jobs report indicates that the workforce in Wisconsin is just under 3.1 million. Some simple math reveals that the number of workers with outstanding claims waiting and waiting is roughly 5% of the state’s entire workforce.
So, just like disabled workers, one out of every twenty people who work are WAITING on the Department to decide their cases after now nearly four months.
Anyone with eyes in their head should see with these numbers that the Department has a massive problem on its hands. A thousand more workers processing unemployment claims is not going to fix a problem that is systemic to the claims-filing process itself.
Note: the claims processing backlog continues. On June 9th, the Department was just processing appeals in unemployment cases that had been filed on May 9th. At present, the delay at the hearing office in processing documents submitted for a hearing is down from 14+ days to 10-12 days. In a best case scenario, I would not expect a hearing on an appeal filed today to occur until late September. Appeals I filed in early to mid- May have yet to be scheduled for a hearing.
Which gets to the second problem revealed in this story: why is the Department taking so damn long to process claims. Here is the official explanation:
Frostman, the workforce secretary, said his agency needed time to interpret federal guidance for the new program. By April 27, for example, state agencies nationwide asked enough questions to prompt the labor department to update its guidance. Another obstacle Frostman cited: DWD’s 1970s-era technology, a vulnerability that lawmakers and regulators have understood for decades but never bothered to fix.
Wisconsin Watch reports how a few other states have had claim-filing problems (though the actual delays in those other states are not like those in Wisconsin). Yes, every state has had processing problems given the number of claims being filed. After all, the number of claims at issue now is at Great Depression levels.
What is NOT mentioned in the article is how those states have quickly adapted and changed their claim-filing processes to streamline their decision-making and reduce the number of issues that has to be decided with each claim.
Michigan paid out $1 million in PUA benefits as of the week ending April 25th. APRIL 25th! New Jersey, which made initial headlines about its ancient COBOL system and was experiencing similar delays with its claims, now reports more than 1 million claimants paid out of 1.2 million workers with unemployment claims. New Jersey even offers explicit advice about how to answer weekly certification questions that is still lacking in Wisconsin.
Note: Wisconsin continues to report confusing numbers about weeks being claimed rather than the number of claimants being paid or denied benefits. The small print in these reports, however, reveals “approximately 141,110 unique claimants with around 232,576 issues requiring adjudication” that are still waiting on an initial decision.
And, states as varied as Ohio and Massachusetts were already making significant alterations to their claim-filing requirements as of March 17th. By March 24th, information on what states were doing in response to the pandemic was already available and known.
There was no federal guidance available then. Yet, somehow these states were acting in response to the major unemployment crisis they were facing. Certainly, no state has been perfect. But, at least these states and others were responding to the crisis.
There is a timidity to the Department’s decision-making that is unique to Wisconsin at the moment. For whatever reason, the Department is attempting to maintain the status quo in the face of this pandemic. More bodies on the front lines, however, do not help when the nuclear bomb has gone off.