Broadband access assistance is available

My Madison alder rep, Regina Vidaver, passed on the following information about an Emergency Broadband Benefit that will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands.

Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.

A household is eligible if a member of the household meets one of the following criteria:

  • Has an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline;
  • Approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

As of 12 May 2021, eligible households can enroll in the program to receive a monthly discount off the cost of broadband service from an approved provider. Eligible households can enroll through the approved provider or by filing an application at this link.

Anyone in Wisconsin who might be eligible for this assistance should apply.

Given that unemployment claims-filing is on-line only unless you indicate in a phone call to the unemployment support center that “I have disabilities that make on-line filing difficult and am requesting assistance” (an option not available to those who converse on the phone), the broadband assistance offered here is essential.

New portal 2.0 and how to navigate it, or old wine in a new bottle

Update (30 April 2021): Made the headline more descriptive.

The Department has been announcing its new unemployment portal.

New UI portal home screen with messages and claim status showing

The problem with this new portal is that basic functionality and information remains unchanged. All that has happened is that the Department has replaced a few menu commands with some new icons. The confusing messages about claim status, the lack of access to the legal documents that decide claim status like benefit year calculations remain, and the multiple layers and clicks to find key information and documents that might or might not be available are still present. Furthermore, there is still no instruction or guidance from the Department about how to navigate the portal to accomplish vital tasks, like appealing an initial determination.

One of the first problems claimants will notice is that not all commands/tools are available to all claimants. For instance, the Department is advertising how claimants can now upload documents. But, that feature is only available to certain claimants when the Department itself decides that those claimants need that ability. The portal for the PUA claimant shown below lacks the document upload tool.

Portal home with no document upload tool

Looking for issues and determinations leads to a confusing and incomplete presentation in which only the current issues and determinations are listed. Clicking on the Determinations button

Selecting the determinations icon

takes claimants to a Determinations and Appeals page:

Determinations and appeals for a claimant

This listing, however, only provides current determinations and appeals. Determinations that have NOT been appealed but which are still denying benefits are NOT listed here.

The issue listed at the top for each of these determinations, moreover, do NOT at all describe the initial determinations themselves.

Furthermore, there may be other determinations for which no initial determination was issued. Click on View Determinations History to see what other determinations might be connected to you.

Click on View Determinations History

Here, more determinations connected to you may appear:

Determinations history for a claimant

In this screenshot, there are now four determinations rather than just the two that have been appealed.

The one for the week 26/2019 indicates that a quit in 2019 is NOT disqualifying because the claimant subsequently earned enough wages to satisfy any disqualification connected to that quit. There is no initial determination connected to this listing. And, there are two for week 15/2020: one disqualifying the claimant issued on 10/28/2020 (which per the Determinations screen above we can see that the claimant has appealed) and another issued on 7/24/2020 finding the claimant eligible for PUA benefits. Finally, there is a determination for week 31/2020 that was issued on 12/31/2020 finding that the claimant quit a job and so is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits (per the Determinations screen above, we can see that this determination also was appealed).

These are NOT all the documents available to this claimant, however. The Document History option detailed below remains the only viable option for seeing all the documents connected to an unemployment claim.

The appeals option is problematic as well. Selecting Appeals

Selecting the appeals option on the new portal

will only show the determinations that can still be appealed. Determinations for which an appeal would be late are NOT listed.

No determinations that can be appealed are listed

To find an appeal online for an older initial determination, claimants have to click on the Find Determination button, enter the number of the initial determination they want to appeal, and then click on still another Find Determination button.

Enter initial determination number and click on the find button

The initial determination number is the number in the upper left corner of initial determination.

Layout of an initial Determination explained

Since most claimants do not track these initial determination numbers, this requirement for an initial determination number for finding an old initial determination creates a major roadblock for filing any late appeals.

Finally, the claim status messages remain as confusing as ever. These messages are generated when a Department staffer does anything involving an unemployment claim. They do NOT reflect the actual legal status of the claim.

Misleading claim status message

Claimants should continue to ignore these messages because they often mean nothing and can actually be misleading.

So, the portal’s usefulness remains limited to two tasks: a claimant’s document history and a claimant’s benefit payment history. Here is how those tasks work with the new portal.

Document history

Your Document History will list some of the important documents connected to your claim, and it provides a central location for finding those documents on your portal.

Claimant document history

To get to your Document History, follow these steps.

1. Click on the Menu button on the upper-right corner of the screen.

Selecting Menu in the upper right hand corner

2. After clicking on Menu, you will see a screen similar to the following:

All menu options revealed after clicking on the Menu button

3. Click on the Document History option.

Document History option to click on

4. The Document History screen is then revealed.

Claimant document history

5. Click on the View button next to each document to see that specific document. Notice that initial determinations, appeals, appeal confirmations, and telephone hearing packets — labeled as Telephone Instructions — are available here.

Benefit payment history

In contrast to the document history process, claimants’ access to their benefit payment history has been improved.

1. Click on the Print Benefit Statements icon.

Print benefit statements icon selected

2. The following screen is presented to you.

Print benefit summary screen

3. Make sure the checkbox By choosing to create a formal summary, I acknowledge that it will include personal infromation such as my name and Social Security Number is checked and that Create a PDF document is selected.

Print benefit summary with options selected

4. Click on the Create Document button.

Click on the Create Document button

5. A PDF printout of your benefit claim and payment history will appear on your screen or be prompted to be downloaded.

Sending a PDF document via e-mail

Do NOT send any PDF documents via e-mail message that have confidential information like social security numbers or bank account information. Initial claims/applications and telephone hearing packets/instructions almost always have raw social security numbers visible to anyone.

  • On a smart phone: when viewing the PDF, click on the share button and then select the e-mail option. Make sure to then write in an e-mail address and a subject.
  • On a desktop: download the PDF document, start up your e-mail program, and then attach the PDF to a new e-mail address that you are sending to someone (make sure to fill out a subject and to whom the message is being sent).

American Rescue Plan

The latest rescue package signed into law on 11 March 2021 provides for:

  • $1,400 per person direct stimulus payments for individuals earning less than $75,000 and for couples earning less than $150,000.
  • PUA benefits extended 23 more weeks on top of the original 50 weeks (39 under CARES and 11 under Continued Assistance) for a total of 73 weeks until 6 September 2021.
  • PEUC benefits extended 29 more weeks on top of the original 24 weeks (13 under CARES and 11 under Continued Assistance) for a total of 53 weeks until 6 September 2021.
  • The additional $300 PUC per week starting on the week ending 1/2/2021 continued for all weeks until 6 September 2021.
  • Work share programs are extended thru 6 Sept. 2021.
  • Full federal funding of EB benefits extended thru 6 Sept. 2021.
  • The federal subsidy for reimbursable employers is increased from 50% to 75% for unemployment weeks beginning after 31 March 2021 until the week ending 9/6/2021.
  • Full, 100% funding of waived waiting week benefits retroactive to the week ending 1/2/21 (this subsidy was previously 50%) and effective through the week ending 9/6/2021. As the Department persuasively indicated on March 18th to the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council, this federal funding means that claimants get an additional $300 PUC payment earlier into their hands as well as one week of regular unemployment benefits being funded by the federal government rather than Wisconsin employers (meaning that Wisconsin employers end up with the first week of benefits paid for by the feds rather than out of their unemployment accounts). At the March 18th meeting of the Advisory Council, labor caucus members pushed for full support of this waiting week waiver, but employer representatives for some reason had to think about whether employers would want to have one week of benefits subsidized or not.
  • Waiver of all interest charges for states that have seen their unemployment trust funds go negative, hence free money (does NOT apply to Wisconsin, as the trust fund is $1 billion in the black as of February 2021).
  • Waiver of federal income taxes on the first $10,200 received in unemployment benefits (regular, PUA, PEUC, EB, and PUC) for 2020 income taxes (not 2021 income taxes, which will be due in 2022).
  • Additional funds offered to states to shore up and modernize their claim-filing systems “to help workers get the benefits they deserve when they need them.” States will need to submit grants to DOLETA to receive this funding.
  • An expanded Child Tax Credit on income tax forms that will provide $300 per month to families with children under 6 and $250 per child 17 and under.
  • 100% coverage of any COBRA premiums for any workers laid off and maintaining health care coverage through COBRA thru 30 Sept. 2021. Details and mechanisms for this coverage are to be determined and will include employer or insurer payments for that coverage on behalf of the former employees.
  • Expanded subsidies for ACA health coverage that will apply to 2021 and 2022 calendar years. Anyone receiving unemployment benefits in 2021 will be automatically eligible for subsidized ACA health care coverage. The extent of those subsidies are to be determined.
  • Financial shoring up of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation so as to keep pension payments flowing to millions of retirees.

There are income limits to many of these provisions. But, for nearly all unemployed workers in Wisconsin, those income limits will not be an issue.

New Rental Assistance Beginning February 2021

Beginning February 2021, there is additional rental assistance (WERA) for those who are facing eviction or are behind in their rent payments.

Here is a link to the state Department of Administration website with contact information for each county. Under the “Want to Apply?” section, click on the highlighted box that says “Your Local Community Action Agency,” which will take you to the WERA page.

In Dane County, these applications are being handled by the Tenant Resource Center. Here are income limits for Dane County, which will vary somewhat for other counties:

  • 1 Person: $35,050
  • 2 People: $40,505
  • 3 People: $45,050
  • 4 People: $50,050
  • 5 People: $54,100
  • 6 People: $58,100
  • 7 People: $62,100
  • 8+People: $66,100

The Dane county application is available at (https://core.tenantresourcecenter.org/) and the telephone number is (608) 257-0006.