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'It's completely ridiculous': Pandemic unemployment benefits delayed by months

Posted at 4:13 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 23:43:14-05

MILWAUKEE — Thousands of people are waiting yet again for unemployment benefits as the state of Wisconsin struggles to implement federal programs that were scheduled to kick in at the start of the year.

The Department of Workforce Development told unemployed claimants utilizing federal programs that several of those benefits won't be ready until March or April.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) won't be ready until March 4, according to a new tracker posted by the DWD.

PEUC benefits provide 24 additional weeks of regular Unemployment Insurance benefits for those who qualify. According to Federal Department of Labor data, 140,188 PEUC claims have been filed in Wisconsin between Jan. 2 and Feb. 6.

Meanwhile, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits won't be paid until April 21. PUA covers workers who are not eligible for regular unemployment, such as gig workers and private contractors.

Federal data shows 9,961 initial PUA claims have been filed from Jan. 2 to Feb. 6, and an additional 96,831 Wisconsin workers have continued claims in that time.

"I think it's completely ridiculous," said golf instructor Joe Bukiewicz.

Bukiewicz, a Racine resident, waited four months before receiving his PUA benefits last year. He never thought he would be in the same position again.

"One would think that they should be able to think outside the box a little bit to figure this situation out in a way quicker period of time," he said.

On the website, the DWD blames the delays on its antiquated computer system, saying it doesn't allow multiple programs to be launched at once.

"Our IT programmers must complete extensive software coding for each program, then deploy them one at a time," the department wrote on its website.

Labor attorney Victor Forberger has been following the unemployment issue in Wisconsin closely. He notes these programs existed before the beginning of the year.

"PUA is an extension of an existing program, PEUC is an extension of an existing program," he said.

"I'm not understanding why this rollout is so much more difficult than what they've got already," Forberer also said.

Bukiewicz has some money saved up, so he says he plans on waiting for the benefit money to kick in.

"You either go to work somewhere but then you do that and you're not going to collect benefits and it might be for way less than what you made, Bukiewicz said. "If it gets to be where I can't do it, I'm going to have to try and get another job."

The DWD stresses that a modernized IT system would help get the money out faster. Gov. Tony Evers has proposed a plan to fix the old system, but it has turned into a political debate and there's been no movement.

Tuesday night Evers will present his budget plans for the next two years. The I-Team will be paying close attention to what unemployment insurance proposals he talks about.

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