Darth Vader with light saber tilts the scales of justice to his benefit

Unemployment public hearing in 2022

The Department has announced three hours of public hearing on November 17th from 2 to 4 pm and from 5 to 6 pm for unemployment comments and feedback.

Prior registration for a specific session is required.

Comments can also be submitted by e-mail message to UILawChange@dwd.wisconsin.gov, an e-mail address that will only be active from November 9th to 18th.

Comments by regular mail can be mailed to:

Janell Knutson, Chair
Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council
P.O. Box 8942
Madison WI 53708

While not stated, it is apparent that these comments MUST be received by Nov. 18th.

Note: In either written or e-mailed comments, do NOT include social security numbers, birth dates, or phone numbers. As indicated below, no one from the Department will be following up with you, and these public hearing comments are not the forum for hoping that someone will address issues directly connected to your specific situation. In these public comments, you can explain your situation or the situation of others and how unjust or ridiculous it was and what needs to be fixed with claim-filing in general.

Past public hearings have seen an outpouring of public commentary. The 2016 public hearing was the first opportunity for public comment on the end of winter work search waivers.

A total of 295 people provided 307 comments by letter, e-mail or at the public hearing. The department received the majority of correspondence by letter (158 letters) or through e-mail (123 emails). A total of 51 people attended the public hearing in which 19 people testified, 6 people testified and provided written correspondence and 1 person registered an opinion, but did not speak. A majority of the correspondence was specific to an employer or industry and contained the same text. A tally of the comments showed 246 comments received related to [winter] work search waivers for recalled employees.

There was no reaction or recommended change to these hundreds of complaints at the Advisory Council meeting when these comments were presented, other than an explanation later posted on the Department’s work search FAQ (that has since been removed; PDF of original available here):

What is the policy basis for the requirement change?

The requirements are a result of a change in DWD’s administrative rules. These rules not only bring Wisconsin in line with more than half of all U.S. states and reaffirm the purpose of UI as delivering short-term assistance, but they also respond to employer concerns regarding the solvency of the UI Trust Fund’s balancing account. The change assures that Wisconsin’s UI law conforms to the federal requirement that state UI programs provide for an experience-rated UI tax system. This ensures fair and equitable financing of the payment of benefits among employers. By encouraging employees to find employment during their industry’s off season, fewer benefits are paid. This assists employers who have negative account balances and are taxed at the maximum UI tax rate. DWD, with the support of three separate committees in the Wisconsin State Legislature, restored the waiver limits that were in place prior to their repeal in 2004.

In short, winter work search waivers were ended because this change reduced the available unemployment benefits to claimants and so, in turn, reduced the unemployment taxes employers pay (less benefits paid means employers’ unemployment tax rates do not increase or even decline, since unemployment tax rates are based on the benefits paid out to the employees of an employer).

The 2018 public hearing was a tepid affair, with winter work search waivers again attracting the most attention.

As compared to the public hearing in November 2016 in which there were 300+ comments from 295 individuals, at the 2018 public hearing there were only 21 comments in toto. Given these few comments, the summary presented to the council at this meeting included not only a summary but the actual 21 comments that were made.

The November 2020 public hearing, on the other hand, was raw, emotional, and upsetting.

Numerous attendees indicated that Department staffers are hostile to claimants by always doubting what is being told to them, and that the whole process is simply dehumanizing. More than few attendees had to stifle tears in the midst of their testimony, in light of their anguish and desperation.

Questions cannot be answered, these attendees indicated, and answers when provided are too often contradictory. As one attendee described, the burden of proof is on her, and she is presumed to be attempting to scam the system until she can show by clear and convincing evidence that her claim for unemployment benefits is forthright.

The picture painted in this testimony is a Department no longer functioning as an unemployment agency but instead as a kind of welfare office trying to correct the “immorality” of claimants who want unemployment benefits rather than a job.

The enormous delays in eligibility determinations, how obvious pandemic-related claims were being denied, language and technology barriers to claim-filing, the SSDI eligibility ban, winter work search waivers, and the confusion between eligibility based on PUA benefits versus regular unemployment benefits also drew widespread concern and outrage at this public hearing.

Members of the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council received these 2020 public hearing comments at their January 2021 meeting. By August 2021, that outpouring of grief and outrage had still led to no action or even acknowledgment from council members:

To date, a Department summary and the actual written comments from the November 2020 public hearing were reported to council members at the 21 January 2021 council meeting. There has yet to be any discussion or even acknowledgment by council members of the concerns raised at that public hearing.

So, at present, while I encourage everyone concerned about unemployment to testify at the November 2022 public hearing coming up, I fear that all of that testimony and commentary will still be for naught. The last three public hearings have in general been ignored, and there is no indication that this practice will change suddenly.

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