On-line only claim filing

As of 1 September 2017, the Department mandated that all unemployment claims and all weekly claim certifications be filed on-line only.

As noted when the Department mandated in May 2017 that initial unemployment claims had to be filed on-line, federal guidelines indicate that on-line only requirements are problematic.

This new, more expansive mandate from the Department seems to ignore these cautions from federal authorities about maintaining effective options for those with limited on-line access or limited English proficiency. For instance, the Department seems only to be providing assistance for on-line filing, not any actual alternatives to on-line filing.

At the very bottom of this page, a person having trouble with on-line claims finds this advice:

For help using online services or if you are truly unable to go online call 414-438-7713 during business hours.

The general page about unemployment services also indicates that on-line filing is required. For those who want help with their clams, this advice is offered:

For help using online services call 414-438-7713 during business hours:

Monday — Friday 7:45 AM – 4:30 PM

Callers may be asked to call back on a specific day of the week.

Additionally, this same general page also explains just under the notice about reporting fraud that:

DWD is an equal opportunity employer and service provider. If you have a disability and need assistance with this information, please dial 7-1-1 for Wisconsin Relay Service. Please contact the Unemployment Insurance Division at 414-438-7713 to request information in an alternate format, including translated to another language.

In the claimants’ handbook, the advice for those who might have trouble with the on-line system is tucked away under the Filing a Weekly Claim Certification:

Important Points to Remember When Filing a Weekly Claim:

All questions apply to the specific calendar week for which you are claiming. For example, when asked if you quit a job, you are being asked if you quit during the week you are claiming. If you did not quit during that week, answer “NO.”

If you are truly unable to use online services to file your weekly claim, contact a Claims Specialist at 414-438-5395 during business hours. Claims Specialists are available to assist you.

In a FAQ about benefit filing, the Department explains:

The Unemployment Insurance Division is retiring the automated telephone filing system. Workers must now file online. Apply online at https://my.unemployment.wisconsin.gov. For help using online services call 414-438-7713 during business hours.

So, the Department is having claimants call for assistance to make their on-line claim work and not offering any alternatives to the on-line claim process. Moreover, these phone calls are NOT toll-free and can only occur during limited hours.

For those calling with limited English proficiency, my sources indicate that phone-service interpreters will be added to the call to help explain the on-line filing requirements to claimants. Those with limited access to the Internet — which is most of Wisconsin, as high-speed broadband is still not available to most homes in rural Wisconsin — are being told to file at their local libraries. Indeed, the Department has indicated on numerous occasions to ask librarians for assistance when filing their unemployment claims.

Finally, there are some doubts about the adequacy of the Spanish version of the on-line filing system for Spanish-speaking claimants.

NOTE: There is still no on-line option for Hmong-speaking claimants.

The terms of use for the on-line system declares:

DISCLAIMER FOR TRANSLATION

The Google™ translation feature is provided for informational purposes only. Please be advised that the Department of Workforce Development is unable to guarantee the accuracy of this translation service and is therefore not liable for any inaccurate information resulting from the translation application tool. Please consult with your own translator for accuracy if you are relying on the translation or are using this site for official business.

The US Dep’t of Labor has specifically held in UIPL 02-16 at 9 that machine translation — what google does when it translates — is NOT adequate and that these kinds of disclaimers are just silly. As explained on digitalgov.gov:

Some view disclaimers as the solution to justify an imperfect translation. Ask yourself and your managers: What are we trying to achieve? If an agency provides imperfect information but includes a disclaimer, the agency is essentially saying that it cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information they have provided. If so, how is this:

  • fulfilling a need?
  • fulfilling our mission?
  • serving the public?

Consider how you would react if you were reading information that had a disclaimer that said, very politely, that the agency can’t guarantee the integrity of the translation and, therefore, can’t guarantee the accuracy of the information it is giving you. A disclaimer on translated content works for the agency, but it does not work for the person trying to accomplish a task.

As already noted, this on-line mandate seems little more than an elaborate trap for charging claimants with fraud when they get confused and make a mistake on their claims. The initial screen claimants see with the on-line system — even before they create a user-id and password — makes this goal front and center:

Initial warning screen

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UI claims-filing trouble in PA

Pennsylvania has experienced an administrative meltdown with its unemployment system that has led to months long waits for unemployment benefits to issue after many state employees were furloughed because of budget shortfalls. The auditor report details how a lack of personnel has led to extraordinary delays by the state in simply processing unemployment claims.

Community legal groups have been complaining about this meltdown for some time. See here and here.

Without additional funding, these problems are only going to get worse. As Community Legal Services of Philadelphia explains in a press release:

As badly as the UC program has served unemployed Pennsylvanians since the furloughs in December, the report indicates that without state supplemental funding, it will get far worse.  It projects that without state supplemental funding of $12.1 million in 2017 and $20.2 million in 2018, three more service centers will be closed and their staff furloughed.  The remaining staff will not be able to do more than process claims, leading to an administrative system conducted solely on-line.  Even communications between staff and claimants will be electronic.

There is precedent for an entirely on-line system.  In 2011, Florida began requiring all UC filings to be on-line.  Since then, UC recipiency has fallen to 1 in 8 unemployed workers, the lowest rate in the country.  See Ain’t No Sunshine: Fewer than One in Eight Unemployed Workers in Florida Is Receiving Unemployment Insurance (NELP 2015).

This experience in Florida provides plenty of caution for Wisconsin’s announced push to go to an on-line only system. As described in this blog, benefit payments in Florida have plummeted under its on-line system.

On-line only claims

The Department has announced that effective 24 May 2017, the on-line claims-filing process will be required for claimants.

The Department is also providing some additional information about work search requirements for laid off workers. There are no actual legal changes here, but the Department is providing one-stop access to employers and employees about the forms needed for getting work searches waived for eight weeks and then another four weeks.

The small print for the on-line only announcement, however, indicates that the phone system will still be available until some future unknown date. Since the on-line system is still English-only, federal requirements for ensuring access indicate that limiting access to an English-only on-line system could be a major problem.

Methods of Providing Access. For languages spoken by a significant number or proportion of the eligible service population, individuals should be able to learn about, apply for, and maintain eligibility in the relevant language(s) for every program delivery avenue (i.e., online, in person, and/or phone). The state agency should also ensure it has reasonable methods in place for identifying and reaching other LEP individuals who speak a language that is not spoken by a significant number or proportion of the eligible service population. As state UI agencies move to almost exclusively website-driven services, there is an increased likelihood that LEP individuals will face barriers to accessing information and claims-related access in violation of Title VI and regulations promulgated by WIA, as amended, and WIOA, and as described above.

UIPL No. 02-16, State Responsibilities for Ensuring Access to Unemployment Insurance Benefits at 8. So, claimants should continue to use the phone system, especially when the on-line system can be used to entrap claimants into concealment for nothing more than a claim-filing mistake.

Initial warning screen

On-line claims filing updates

The Department of Workforce Development issued the following press release on Nov. 3rd about on-line claims filing.

UI Online Upgrades Modernize Initial Claims Filing in Wisconsin

90% of initial claims that are started online are now completed without the need to speak to a specialist

MADISON – One year after the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) rolled out a redesigned online system to help Unemployment Insurance (UI) claimants start and complete their initial claims for unemployment benefits through the Internet, over 90% of initial claimants who start the filing process online are completing their claim without the need to speak to a specialist.

“We’re pleased with the success of our new system, as evidenced by the increase in the percentage of people who are completing online initial claims without the need to speak to a specialist,” DWD Secretary Reggie Newson said. “The investments we have made in a robust, nimble and customer-friendly online claims system will pay dividends in the form of added efficiency and convenience as federal UI financial support declines due to the state’s improving economy, and as we transition to a 21st century customer-service model that more fully uses online tools.”

The November 2014 rollout of the UI initial claims redesign featured new tools to enter accurate information, the ability to save work and finish claims later, additional flexibility to resolve eligibility questions online quickly, and other enhancements that reduce the need to talk to a specialist and are prompting claimants to file online instead of by phone.

Highlights of the positive impact that the UI online initial claim filing system has had over the past 12 months include:

  • Of those who start an initial claim online, the percentage of claimants who complete initial claims online increased from about 57 percent to 90 percent.
  • The percentage of claimants who start their initial claim online has also risen. As a result of these two improvements, the percentage of people who are using online services from start to finish without needing to speak to a claims specialist has nearly doubled.
  • 78 percent of claimants who are required to search for work file their weekly claims online, in part to enter their weekly searches in work search logs that now must be provided either online or by fax or mail before claimants can collect unemployment benefits.
  • UI estimates 57,000 initial claims that have been completed online would have required a claim specialist’s assistance before the initial claim redesign took effect in November 2014.

While DWD’s telephone-based automated filing system will remain an option for claimants who prefer to file claims by phone instead of through the Internet, DWD is responding to customer trends toward online and helping to minimize call wait times across the week by fully implementing a call scheduling system called guaranteed call priority this month for claimants who file initial claims by phone or are calling with a general question.

Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays each will be assigned to one-third of claimants who file by phone, with Thursdays and Fridays open to all claimants who file by phone. Online services will be available to all claimants seven days a week. UI is proactively notifying claimants that guaranteed call priority takes effect November 9 and will help ensure call wait times are minimized throughout the week.

Secretary Newson noted that other states have implemented assigned days to reduce wait times, and Wisconsin has done so on a voluntary basis since summer 2014. “We will continue to encourage all claimants to file online, which they can do any day of the week,” he said.

Note that telephone claim services are now being limited. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be limited by one-third in some way (it is unclear whether one-third of the staffers are available or one-third of the claimants can call on these days). On Tuesdays and Thursdays, however, no call-in limits will be in place.

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.