'They're getting paid and I'm not': Tour guide waits months for unemployment pay

Posted at 9:06 AM, Aug 07, 2020
and last updated 2021-03-19 17:21:17-04

Charlette Michel of Fontana, Wis. used to work as a tour guide in Chicago, making about $20,000 during spring and summer. Then COVID-19 hit.

"As of March 17, I have no job," Michel said.

"It's a fun job. I love my job. I just wish it didn't go away so soon," she said.

On April 23, she applied for PUA or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. It's unemployment pay for independent contractors or gig workers. She's still waiting for that money.

"I wish someone at the state department would call or would answer the phone maybe to give us some hope that maybe they are processing the application," she said.

Last month, the Department of Workforce Development got staffing help from other state agencies and it added a separate call center specifically for self-employed people.

"With these extra resources, why is it still so hard for people to still get in touch with someone?" Consumer Investigator Kristin Byrne asked Secretary Caleb Frostman with the DWD.

"If they're calling our PUA hotline, [it] actually has not had any wait time as far as we're aware," Frostman said. "Whereas some of the more complicated calls coming into our general UI Center. It can have some was longer waits."

Similar to normal unemployment benefits, the state admits to a backlog of claims with PUA. The agency said processing these applications takes time since each person's income needs to be verified.

About a month ago, the DWD told TMJ4 News it had paid out ten percent of PUA applicants, about 7,800 of around 70,000 applications.

As of Aug. 6, Frostman said DWD has received just over 90,000 PUA applicants, an estimated 41,000 have been paid out.

"Do you feel that's good enough progress?" Byrne asked Frostman.

"We're making strong progress week over week as far as the number of claims that we're processing. It took some time to get enough people on board and get those folks trained," he explained.

"And what do you say to those people who say we need our claims processed faster?" Byrne asked Frostman.

"I mean, we certainly understand folks in a really tough economic position and, you know, we're working in order of the oldest claims first," he said. "The tough part of PUA is it is such a manual process."

Michel said as a retired widow, this money is important. She does receive social security, so she can make ends meet for now.

"What are you going to do? Your hands are tied," Michel said. "Everyone goes 'Oh! We are all in this together!' No, we're aren't. Because they're getting paid and I'm not!"

If you are waiting for PUA benefits, you can call a hotline number for assistance at (608) 318-7100.

Click here to apply for PUA.

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