Appeals are creating a second unemployment backlog in Wisconsin

Posted at 7:33 AM, Dec 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-15 23:30:04-05

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development says it's shrinking the backlog of unpaid unemployment claims, however a second backlog of denied applicants appealing the decision is starting to swell.

In an interview last month, DWD Transition Director Amy Pechacek told the I-Team there were approximately 12,000 claimants waiting on an appeal.

The I-Team received more than a dozen emails from unemployed residents who felt their claim was unfairly denied. Some of them said their hearings are being set months out. Others are still waiting just to get a date, including Dan Cacciotti of Racine.

"I started just consistently calling, calling, calling and calling," he said. "Nothing was getting done."

Cacciotti lost his job in Kenosha in March, so he applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA. He said his case was frozen after a DWD staff member inputted his information incorrectly. In September, his application was denied.

"Everyone I've talked to from the Pandemic Unemployment and the unemployment office said that never should have happened, that guy made a mistake," Cacciotti said.

Because he felt the mistake was on the state's end, Cacciotti appealed the decision.

Although he hasn't received any money, Cacciotti is not considered one of the 62,000 stuck in the unemployment backlog. Instead, his case is considered "Resolved" according to the weekly press release the department sends on the backlog of unemployment cases.

"You see, you know, the governor and other people saying, 'Oh, yep, we're almost caught up,' but then be told by unemployment themselves that they're way far behind on appeals," he said.

Pechacek blames the second backlog on the massive number of people that filed unemployment this year.

Victor Forberger, a labor attorney representing people appealing their denials, said several of his clients made simple mistakes on the department's unemployment application, and the matters are easily resolved once they get to a hearing.

"They were 15, 20-minute hearings because they were brain dead simple," he said.

But appeals aren't always the finish line, and appeals can mean months of additional waiting.

Vera Nowak of Greendale was denied regular Unemployment Insurance benefits in April, her first hearing wasn't set until August.

She said it's a difficult process to navigate and found herself acting as her own attorney.

"They send you the paperwork with the appeal, tell you to get ready for your case but they don't give you any guidelines or any outline to follow," Nowak said.

In August, a department judge said her denial would stand, but suggested applying for PUA.

She did, and that's since been denied as well. Nowak is appealing that decision, but she's been waiting since September for a hearing date.

"It's been long, it's been difficult," Nowak said. "I followed the law and I'm surprised that I'm still getting denied."

"It's taking now four to six weeks just a process that appeal," Forberger said. "And then it's going to be another four to six months before you get a hearing."

Cacciotti was told he would receive a hearing date at the end of January, and that date could be months out.

"So now I'm having to wait till the end of January over a mistake somebody made," he said.

Last month, Pechacek told the I-Team the department is working on simplifying the unemployment application process, with the hope it will eliminate mistakes that lead to unfair denials in the future, among other problems.

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