Unemployment delays, part 1

There has been an unemployment meltdown in Wisconsin. Claimants wait and wait and wait for their cases to be decided, but no one is asking about the extent of these delays or why they are occurring.

Here are some answers.

Longer times

First, take note of a statistic the Department has been reporting after the pandemic had been underway for a few months: the average number of days from initial application to first payment (or initial determination denying benefits). Rather than decreasing as the number of initial claims and PUA claims have declined and the number of staffers have more than tripled, this number has actually been increasing, going from 19 days to 24 days.

Average days to pay an initial claim

In other words, the Department’s ability to process unemployment applications has gotten worse over the course of this pandemic, not better.

Fewer regular UI claims being paid

Using the federal unemployment data that all states report and which is available for analysis at Unemployment Insurance Data Explorer and based on this federal unemployment data, Wisconsin is actually paying out fewer unemployment claims on a percentage basis during the pandemic than from before the pandemic.


Regular UI claims during the pandemic (March-Aug. 2020)
Initial claims   First payments    Percentage
918,757          294,571           32.06%

Regular UI claims prior to the pandemic (Jan. 2018-Feb. 2020)
Initial claims   First payments    Percentage
632,728          245,558           38.81%

So, Wisconsin is actually paying fewer initial claims during the pandemic than before the pandemic. It appears that no other state has a similarly significant decline in claims being paid out during the pandemic.

For comparison, here is what has happened in other states in regards to how many initial applications for regular unemployment benefits are being paid for the same time periods:

State   Pre-pandemic  Pandemic
NC      45.25%        50.27%
MI      54.70%        60.53%
FL      45.36%        49.76%
AR      39.60%        45.98%
IN      47.78%        46.77%
IL      56.34%        57.72%

Indiana shows a 1% decline during the pandemic, but at least around half of its initial claims are ending up with payment of benefits. Even Florida (!) has managed to pay out more claims during the pandemic than before the pandemic.

These numbers also reveal that the number of claimants receiving regular unemployment in Wisconsin is much lower than in other states, the same states that are decried in the national press as having terrible unemployment systems. During this pandemic in Wisconsin, less than one-third of initial claims have actually led to a payment of regular unemployment benefits. This decline is from roughly 39% of initial claims from before the pandemic. And, unlike all other states, including those who had massive problems with administering all of their pandemic claims, Wisconsin’s handling of these claims is trending down rather than up.

Wisconsin payment of initial claims

Note: Here is the spreadsheet that has this data.

Because there are errors in the data states report, some of this data is incomplete. For instance, Minnesota reports weekly claims being paid sizable amounts, nearly 91% of all pandemic claims. But, Minnesota also reports only 1.36% of initial claims being paid out. So, first payment data for Minnesota is in error. Another example of an error is the PUA data for Michigan. Even though Michigan is widely-acknowledged leader in paying out PUA benefits, this data for Michigan has zero PUA claims and payments.

These data errors do not appear to explain the claims-filing problems in Wisconsin. The numbers being reported here approximately match what Wisconsin itself is reporting. Moreover, the percentages or proportions of weeks claimed to weeks paid, for instance, match what the Department itself reported on Sept. 1st. So, there do not appear to be errors in what Wisconsin is reporting to the US Dep’t of Labor. The numbers for Wisconsin indicate a very real problem.

PUA claims

Wisconsin’s handling of PUA claims is even worse. Here is Wisconsin and a few other states for which data is available.

State   Month   Init App  First Payment
WI      Jul     13,298    17,269
WI      Jun     13,044     6,286
WI      May     23,887       709
WI      Apr     43,585         0
WI    totals    93,814    24,264    25.86%

NC      Jul     49,478    27,948
NC      Jun     54,338    35,799
NC      May    111,094    95,538
NC      Apr     42,808    32,582
NC    totals   257,718   191,867    74.45%

MN      Jul     2,877      4,251
MN      Jun     4,353     10,089
MN      May    14,908     26,682
MN      Apr    64,350     46,589
MN      Mar    21,622      6,304
MN    totals  108,110     93,915    86.87%

FL     Jun    133,501    126,769
FL     May    126,334    105,885
FL     Apr     18,273        338
FL    totals  278,108    232,992    83.78%

Note: Here is the spreadsheet for this PUA claims data. And, here is the raw PUA claims data from the US Dep’t of Labor.

These numbers are staggeringly awful for Wisconsin. Wisconsin is failing to process these claims even though Wisconsin has the fewest number of claims to process among these states. By the end of July, just a quarter of PUA applicants in Wisconsin had their claims paid out. This number is roughly three times less than what is happening in these other states.

Notably, even Florida managed to pay out some PUA claims in April, whereas Wisconsin did not significantly start processing PUA claims until June of this year. No wonder folks in Wisconsin are still waiting on their PUA claims: Wisconsin is doing very little to process these claims and, unlike other states, is not paying out these claims in any way comparable to what is happening in those other states.

No action whatsoever for almost 300,000 claims

Via its weekly data reports, Wisconsin has been reporting on “weeks compensated” rather than initial claims being paid. As a result, those reports say nothing about the experience of individual claimants who are still waiting for any payments. This ‘data’ being reported by the Department is covering up the significant administrative problems that are going on.

But, some actual data can be gleaned from these reports. The Sept. 14th report, for instance, reveals that there have been 902,717 initial applications for regular unemployment benefits during the pandemic, that 98,309 of these are in adjudication, and that 513,870 of these claimants have received regular unemployment benefits. So, based on these numbers, there are 290,538 initial applications that have yet to have ANY action taken whatsoever — no denial, no approval, no nothing.

Note: Above, over 600,000 Wisconsin claimants are reported as still waiting on first payments. Whereas in these weekly data releases, the Department is reporting only around 300,000 still waiting.

The first page of the August 2020 financial report to the Advisory Council seems to confirm that more than 500,000 claimants have been paid regular unemployment benefits in 2020. But, this report also indicates that “in calendar year 2018 and 2019, the number of claimants paid were [only] 130,710 and 129,888, respectively.” That number matches almost exactly what the Department reported to the US Dep’t of Labor prior to the pandemic.

It appears that for its weekly data reports, the Department is including some data as a payment where no actual payment is occurring. The benefit amount reduction, or BAR, comes to mind as a possible explanation. The Department has been illegally using this program to deny $600 PUC benefits to claimants because of prior concealment. Furthermore, the Department typically still counts regular unemployment benefits as paid to these claimant even though they are receiving nothing because of a BAR.

In any case, the Department’s own data indicates that just under 300,000 Wisconsin employees are still waiting on their claims to be paid as of mid-September.

Given that the workforce in Wisconsin is around 3 million workers, this number of 290,538 initial applications indicates that roughly one out of ten Wisconsinites are still waiting on the Department to do something with their claim.

And, as the number of claims being adjudicated has been declining on average by around 407 a week during this pandemic according to the Department’s own numbers of claims awaiting adjudication, the unemployed are going to wait for a long, long time until the Department actually processes their claims. No wonder the average number of days from application to payment or denial is increasing in this state rather than declining.

Breakdowns in claims administration

All of these delays create an additional problem for claimants — the claims-processing procedures are even further clogged.

At the end of March, some major problems and bottlenecks in the claims-filing process were identified. Other than what was noted then, many of those bottlenecks continue to exist.

On May 12th, as the claims piled up, processing delays were enormous: a month was needed just to process a faxed or mailed document for an unemployment claim and more than a week just to get a document recognized by the hearing office after being received.

Now in mid-September it still takes around 30 days for a claim document sent by mail or fax to be processed. And, information sent to a hearing office still takes 5+ days to be processed. Furthermore, while the clogged phone lines to reach a claim specialist have been opened up, it is now incredibly difficult to contact the hearing office by phone. In my experience, it takes numerous phones calls over a day or two and then a hold of 30 to 70 minutes or more before I can get through to a hearing office staffer.

Because Wisconsin (unlike all other states) has done little to nothing to change the claims-filing process in light of the pandemic, these kind of delays and obstacles remain. Appeals of benefits being denied for illogical reasons which are filed in August will likely not be heard at a hearing until October or maybe even early November.

The unemployment system in this state is broken.

Update (17 Sept. 2020): The NYTimes has an excellent primer on unemployment data and the hazards of drawing conclusions from continuing claims (which the Department itself has featured in its weekly data reports). The focus above in this post is on initial claims and first payments, not continuing claims and total number of unemployed or total amounts paid out. Initial claims and first payments should be relatively straight forward numbers.

Update (25 Sept. 2020): The Economic Policy Institute provides an explanation of about how pandemic claims data is inflated in some states and how unemployment rates under-report actual unemployment and both under-employment.

There is no reason to think that Wisconsin is over-reporting its claims data, however, or that Wisconsin’s unemployment rate (which is based on a national survey) is somehow not also under-reporting unemployment and under-employment in this state.

33 thoughts on “Unemployment delays, part 1

  1. I must be one of the 290,538. I have weekly claims pending since UI week 25/20—fortunately, for partial unemployment only. The cause is that I dutifully reported self-employment on the side (from which, however, I earned just $75 in this time period). At least they did tell me that much. Still waiting for an adjudicator to get back to me and investigate. Thank you for your relentless fight for the unemployed or partially unemployed and for exposing the flaws of WI’s DWD.

    • I am definitely in this group. Example denied regular benefits due to a “restriction in my availability” uh yeah you ever hear of coronavirus?? My sons school closed he a 2nd grader I became a 2nd grade teacher like so many others. I told them that. But no because their system wasn’t updated for that specific question when filing your weekly claim and I was being honest when I said I wasn’t available ( now they have a footnote that if you’re filing due to covid to say yes on this specific question) I was disqualified until Sept 5th. When school started again… virtual again….

      Fast forward to this week I’ve been receiving 17$ a week before taxes and conveniently I’m being held up now because wages from Aug I reported don’t match what my employer reported and they have to investigate…again…..for weeks filed that I was already disqualified for?!?!?!? After they’ve paid me since. Really???

  2. So, they’re scamming us and you can’t find any lawful reason to file a law suit? What’s the point of all your articles if we just have to accept it? It’s just pissing people off even more.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly. We’re all so afraid of being called a theorist that nobody is willing to speak up when a huge conspiracy is right in front of us. Greed! Why do disabled people need money when it could be floated right into the pockets of those involved.
      My autistic son was earning too much to qualify for SSDi. He has never received SSDI in his life. However, that didn’t stop DWD from putting an SSDI flag on his account in August when we first applied for REGULAR unemployment going back to April 5th. All those $600 a week payments were too much for someone to part with. Then in December his claim was denied, saying that he was receiving ssdi. Nobody even checked. Every week we say that no, he does NOT receive ssdi, and every week we are told that his claim is disqualified because of ssdi. Appealed on Dec17, and here we wait.
      The UI insurance number has also made it harder for a disabled person to get through. If we go online we have to do a captcha thing where the pictures are almost impossible to see. On the phone, we have to get screened by people who ask a long string of questions that go way past my son’s ability and past his tolerance for answering questions. A painful form of discrimination.

  3. Pingback: Unemployment delays, part 2 | Wisconsin Unemployment

  4. Pingback: Unemployment delays, part 3 | Wisconsin Unemployment

  5. Still have 3 claims pending from 5/16 just to be reviewed and all I did was answer 1 question wrong I had a fever of 105.3 ffs and like everyone else I need that money, anyone getting reviewed from may?

    • April 4th 2020 , They said I quit my job. Been working with my employer for 28 years and still working with him to this day. Waiting for 2 weeks of unemployment. This needs to be investigated pronto. Sad for those who live paycheck to paycheck. The stress must be unbearable.

      • I have somewhat the same problem. I had no problem collecting unemployment since my hours were reduced. The last week I filed they held my unemployment saying that i quit my job back in April. Umm, no, I am still working, back to full time hours until last week. Now my job is slowing down due to uptick in covid and a lot less people traveling. (the latter is normal for this time of year and the type of business i work in). So i reopened my file. They still say it is pending due to unresolved issues. Yep since the beginning of August. Come on and get with the game.

  6. Pingback: The $600 PUC in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Unemployment

  7. Pingback: How to navigate Wisconsin’s unemployment portal | Wisconsin Unemployment

  8. I have been waiting for over 4 months now. My case has been in adjudication the whole time. I call and they say the same thing every month. It’s crazy how slow they are. Why are they not working shifts and weekends to catch up. I have child support that is behind and the law is coming after me for it. I could be in jail because of Wisconsin’s slow workers and messed up system. My taxes are due I told told the federal government to go get my money from them. I had to move in a trailer my mom owned because I can’t pay rent. My kids have nothing. They need so much now but my ex-wife and me just don’t have money. I went with out eating for 5 days so my kids could have decent meals. Then I just broke I went to my neibors begged for helpi just wanted food for kids. They are having a hard time also but helped me out greatly. I had to leave my job because of kids and my mother. Her husband got sick was put in hospice care and she was left alone scared out of her mind. She never drove was I’ll needed surgery but was canceled she could hardly function. There was no home care no doctors no one to help. Every day is a struggle and I think my end is near. I have life insurance and we’ll anyway being honest. Help if you can. If not I understand thank you for your time.

  9. Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic I was working part-time as a Substitute Teacher within the local Schools, and when the Districts in my area shut down for the virus I no longer had a place to work.

    I applied for Unemployment Benefits on March 27th, 2020.

    My Initial claim was approved but payments were denied/suspended because I receive SSDI.

    Per the advice of DWD I applied for PUA benefits on May 11th, 2020. Those benefits were then denied on August 12th because either I failed to close out the Initial unemployment claim properly(I should have appealed that decision before applying for PUA benefits), or because I answered a question accurately on the application (Did the company you work for shut down due to COVID-19). I’m really not clear as to the reason for denial, but after speaking with PUA Representatives within DWD these two issues are the only thing they can think of for the denial.

    I then filed for an Appeal to the decision on August 17th, and every Clerk that I have spoken with at DWD has recognized the error in my case yet they are unable to help me in fixing the problem. All they suggest is that I keep showing patience and that my claim needs to go through the correct process.

    Because of the delay in my claim I started contacting my representatives in early July, with both Senator Nygren, and Governor Evers Office’s unable to assist. In fact, the last emails I’ve received from their Office’s have told me how sorry they are to hear about my delay and that maybe I can find comfort knowing that I’m not alone in all of this as there are currently thousands of other Wisconsin residents going through the same thing. One office even suggested that I go to the Press, but I don’t feel like placing my problems out there for the public.

    This coming Tuesday will mark the seventh month since I initially applied for Unemployment Benefits and my family hasn’t seen
    a dime. Yesterday I called the hearing office to see if I could get some kind of a timeline from the DWD to pass along to my Bill Collectors, but sadly I was informed that earlier this week there was an message circulated within the unemployment offices that prevents service representatives from providing timelines to claimants because they just don’t know how long any of this is going to take any

    So now I have to try to convince my bill collectors to keep an open mind as to when they will start receiving payments from me again. And, I live with an exponential fear that there will be more delays that I can’t foresee. I used to have hope that this would all pan out, but that hope has certainly faded.

    • Hey there….One definite thing you can do is always ask to talk to a supervisor if the rep can’t answer your question. There is a process to getting rid of that initial claim. I had to do that too. This seems to be a deterrent just to get people to stop trying to get help. In the meantime, while you navigate the UI and PUA systems, continually question the seemingly simple explanations you get. Look at the Law Library’s or Statutes for your state. Don’t miss deadlines and look at prior cases to see what others did right or wrong.
      Lastly……Do not ever ever ever give up!!

    • Hey again….forgot to mention that if any way possible, try not to look at unemployment as something to depend on. There’s some great programs available for rent and mortgage and definitely food help in every state. It is a lot like doing homework trying to find the right agencies but it is worth it.

  10. I filed in april. Its now november and ive yet to receive my first payment. Meanwhile my bills are still piling up and stable employment is harder to find. This is ridiculous.

  11. Pingback: Unemployment public hearing in 2020 | Wisconsin Unemployment

  12. To say our unemployment system is broken is definitely an UNDERSTATEMET, I have been getting the run around since May haven’t received a payment since. First waiting for programs to be active extended 13 weeks, before that happened my benefit year expired. Against my better judgment at the desperate time a new claim had to be started when that happened had to wait for adjudication finally spoke to someone in August. That whole process resulted in fines, overpayments, and benefit reduction.

    I was advised to appeal and was informed with the benefit reduction i was basically being denied regular unemployment so again I was advised to file for the PUA i asked several times if I appeal will this affect my chance of getting the PUA NO is what i was told. During my 21 day waiting period i didn’t bother anyone in the office. Finally mid September no word no letter no updated portal, I called was directed to another number called that one was directed back to the previous number. In October I decided to bother someone from UI office and the PUA hotline I got some clarity since i was wrongly advised to appeal while i was wrongly advised to file for PUA since August I am waiting for an appeal hearing date to get a phone call.

    I understand the system is overwhelmed because the increase in the amount of cases however all these people that were proudly announced hired what good has it done if the Program itself is BROKEN maybe the outdated system should have been fixed, maybe the restraints put in during the Walker era should have been adjusted first its a PANDEMIC none of us asked to be in this situation I have worked consistently 20 years never a fan of waiting for the government to take care of me. Hiring Superman or WonderWoman wouldn’t have made a difference if they are not allowed to make QUICK changes without adjudication protocol and so on. Hopefully I get a phone call sooner than later, its others who have been waiting blah blah blah same rhetoric bullcrap was the last thing I was told.

    Its sad and funny when I see the articles of all the fraud cases they have paid out, but hard working people going thru roller coasters and merry go rounds to get a payment. AGAIN to say the UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM is broken is an UNDERSTATENT.

  13. Pingback: Recap of the 2020 public hearing | Wisconsin Unemployment

  14. Pingback: Unemployment delays, part 4 | Wisconsin Unemployment

  15. Filed in early August and haven’t heard NOTHING from the state, I contacted my state representative in Appleton, still nothing.

  16. Pingback: Unemployment delays, part 5 | Wisconsin Unemployment

  17. Pingback: Unemployment delays, part 6 | Wisconsin Unemployment

  18. Pingback: Unemployment delays, part 7 | Wisconsin Unemployment

  19. Pingback: Unemployment delays, part 8 | Wisconsin Unemployment

  20. Pingback: Unemployment Delays, part 9 — The portal is NOT accurate | Wisconsin Unemployment

  21. I am owed 9 weeks of pua benefits 18/20 – 26/20 and my portal changed from pandemic unemployment extended benefits to effective paying program pandemic unemployment assistance, 18 weeks available 0 weeks paid 18 weeks remaining since December 2021, however I found out central processing never changed paying programs from regular to pua so I am once again waiting and the person assigned to my claim Jason has yet to respond to 1 email.

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