Unemployed Wisconsinites running out of patience, savings

Posted at 5:49 AM, May 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 13:51:16-04

Unemployed workers in Wisconsin are losing patience as the state scrambled to work down a backlog of unpaid claims, that now may last into the fall.

On Wednesday, state lawmakers questioned the head of the Department of Workforce Development about the delays, as some Wisconsin workers have waited since March to receive anything.

More that 728,000 claims are still unpaid, according to the DWD, and those waiting are getting close to the end of their wits, and wallets.

Kimberly Stillman is a mother of two in Shorewood, who has been out of work since March. She was planning on using her savings to buy a house, now she's using it to pay the bills.

"It would at least would help if I knew when and how much," she said. "I could wait another two months."

In Oak Creek, Tracy Vetter has been waiting on and off for 14 weeks.

"Basically, I was put in a queue and that they get to me when they get to me," Vetter said. "So it doesn't even make sense to call you. It's a waiting game and it's ridiculous."

Matt Pugel in Waukesha was also laid off in March. He's been waiting two months for his payments.

"I've worked for 30 years I've never had unemployment never need it," Pugel said. "But now I when I do need it, I can't get it."

In a Senate hearing, DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said Wednesday delays will last months, and some of the backlogged claims may not get paid until October.

Linda Kennedy in Wauwatosa has been out of work since March. She watched the hearing hoping for answers.

"I'm not in their shoes, but that they're doing the best job they can up with," she said. "This is not rocket scientists, we were not at NASA."

Many of the people we spoke with want to at least be acknowledged by the state, and are asking for better communication about the status of their claims.

"We want to know how many claims are being done a day," said Brett Lipshutz. "We want to know if, how much is the number going down and we want that as a counter on the website in a visible place."

Lipshutz is a moderator of a Facebook group called Wisconsin Unemployment Support Group. The group has more than 2,000 members and is growing every day.

It's a place were people can try to get their questions answered when they can't get through on the phone, or vent their frustrations about the unemployment process. It also gives them a collective voice demanding action from the state government.

"People really seem unified with this because you know people who are facing the possibility of not paying rent and being evicted or have their children not eating," Lipshutz said.

It's a reality everyone we spoke with wants the leaders of state to understand as they try to fix the backlogged system.

"I'm definitely trying to keep some perspective but there's moments where I'm lying in bed at night being like, what if this doesn't come through?" Stillman said. "What's going to happen?"

The DWD said they are handling an unprecedented 5.8 million calls a week, and they are still in the process of hiring more people to handle those calls.

Frostman said Wednesday while the backlog may last until October, he anticipates claims made in March and April will have been taken care of long before then.

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