Initial claims and a new benefit year?

With the pandemic coming up on a year, many folks are seeing notices on their portal about needing to file a new initial claim because they have a new benefit year. The notice looks something like the following:

Your current benefit year has ended with the week you just filed a weekly claim for.

If you want to receive benefits for the week ending 03/20/21 you must file an initial claim application to start a new benefit year. To file an initial claim click on the “File Initial Claim” button.

If you do not need to file for the week ending 03/20/21, the next time you need to file for benefits you will need to file an new initial claim application.

If you are receiving or have filed a claim for regular unemployment benefits, PEUC benefits, or EB benefits, then you need to heed this notice.

But, this notice makes no sense whatsoever if you are filing for or receiving PUA benefits because you are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits in the first place, as there is no “benefit year” connected to PUA benefits.

Claimants receiving PUA benefits have called Department staffers to ask what they should do. Those staffers have correctly replied that claimants receiving PUA benefits should NOT file a new initial claim, as that initial claim triggers a new investigation into their eligibility for regular unemployment benefits. That investigation will only delay payments even further and add to the Department’s already too high workload.

The only claimants receiving PUA benefits who should file a new initial claim at the end of a benefit year are those claimants receiving PUA benefits because they exhausted their eligibility for regular unemployment benefits, PEUC benefits, and EB benefits or those individuals receiving PUA benefits because the specific PUA reason for benefits is not available to them under regular unemployment law.

Note: The reasons a claimant normally eligible for regular unemployment benefits would receive PUA benefits is, for example, because they are quarantined because of Covid-19, school employees in certain circumstances, and those who left jobs because an employer is not following public health orders. These last two reasons are covered under new federal guidance released on February 25th of this year, UIPL 16-20 Change 5 (25 Feb. 2021). A discussion of that new guidance is in the works.

Everyone else receiving PUA benefits — typically independent contractors and claimants excluded under state law from receiving regular unemployment benefits — should NOT file an initial claim ever.

Your first initial PUA claim should suffice for all your PUA benefits until there is a new reason for you to claim PUA benefits, such as if you returned to full-time work and stopped claiming PUA benefits altogether, only to be quarantined when you caught Covid-19. In that circumstance, you would file a new PUA initial claim citing the quarantine as the reason for the new PUA initial claim. Previously, the Department did not allow any additional PUA claims to be filed. The new federal guidance mandates that multiple PUA claims be allowed.

On-line claims filing

The Department of Workforce Development is pushing for on-line claims filing and has improved the on-line experience to some extent.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, December 22, 2014
CONTACT: DWD Communications, 608-266-2722
On the Web: http://dwd.wisconsin.gov/dwd/news.htm
On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WIWorkforce
On Twitter: @WIWorkforce

DWD Reminds UI Claimants to File Using Improved Online System

Seasonal filing increases in cold-weather states beginning late fall through winter, including holiday weeks

MADISON – The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is reminding Unemployment Insurance (UI) claimants about the advantages of filing initial and weekly claims through the agency’s improved online system.

Claimants who file online can avoid wait times associated with filing by telephone during the seasonal increase in filing activity that Wisconsin and other cold-weather states experience during the late fall and first half of winter, including holiday weeks.

DWD encourages claimants who file initial claims online to take advantage of several improvements that were rolled out this fall:

  • Added features to allow most initial claims to be completed online without the assistance of a claims specialist. Claimants also can save their work and finish their claim at a later time.
  • A new employer search that makes it easier for claimants to add employer information to their claim.
  • Enhanced search capability for claimants to select specific occupations.
  • Online fact-finding capability to resolve certain eligibility questions online quickly, reducing the need to mail paper questionnaires to a claimant to complete by hand and mail back.
  • User-friendly assistance for new claimants who are unfamiliar with the online system.

Those who file weekly claims online also have access to additional features, such as:

  • Viewable, printer-friendly UI payment history with the ability to select a specific time period for review and print.
  • Additional details of UI benefits paid, monetary issues, eligibility determinations and appeal information.
  • An enhanced online UI benefits calculator with expanded functionality to provide more precise calculations for partial and full-time wages.

While DWD’s telephone-based automated filing system will continue to operate for claimants who prefer to file initial and weekly claims by phone, DWD advises claimants that phone-based wait times are generally longer during peak volume hours, particularly during weeks with holidays. Claimants can avoid potential long waits on hold by filing online at: http://dwd.wi.gov/uiben/online/

The improved on-line claims filing is a big part of the Department’s response to the unemployment audit report and is certainly needed and welcome. But, these improvements are only a start. There is still little to any effort to provide guidance, assistance, and encouragement to claimants (and employers) to use the on-line system. Tutorials are where? And, where are the postings on the Department’s twitter and facebook sites about how to use the on-line system and its new features? Indeed, unemployment filing information is largely absent from twitter and facebook. The December 22nd press release quoted above is not even on the Department’s facebook page and the only recent info about on-line filing there is this tidbit.

FaceBook-NewOnline.2014.11.04

As noted in an earlier post about the audit report, New Mexico has a youtube channel. You would not know it from its own information, but the Department also has its own youtube channel. The movie/powerpoint explaining the new on-line claims filing system is there (note that there is not much detail about the information on the new on-line system and offers only broad descriptions rather than any specific examples about how the new system works; cf. DWD’s video with this Oregon video about how telephone hearings work).

The second big problem is that on-line access is far from universal. When unemployment systems began moving in the 1990s from in-person claims filing to telephone filing, phones were a utility service present in almost every home. Broadband Internet access is not even available in numerous parts of Wisconsin, on the other hand. And, even where broadband access is available, an individual needs to invest in a computer and the know-how to keep that computer up and running effectively. The  Department’s proposed solution to this problem has been that individuals can go to their public libraries for computer assistance. I have yet to hear of any departmental program about working with librarians in order to assist claimants with their on-line filing, however. So, this push for on-line filing rings hollow until the Department actually puts some muscle behind this effort.