Unemployed winning appeals but still waiting for benefits

Milwaukee unemployment rate hits new record low
Posted at 12:52 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 23:25:16-05

Ten months into the pandemic and unemployment crisis, people are still being told to wait, even after winning their appeals.

Some unemployed residents have told the I-Team they waited months to even hear anything from the Department of Workforce Development about their claims, only to be denied. They appealed and waited months more.

When they finally got to the appeal they were told they were correct and deserved benefits.

But still, they have to wait. Meanwhile, while their savings is running out or the rent is due.

That's the situation Samantha Serchen of Neenah found herself in. She was unemployed in March and was denied Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits in August.

Unemployed winning appeals but still waiting for benefits - Samantha Serchen

"I have three daughters and a grandson," Serchen said. "I'm a single parent. So I mean just the anxiety alone was a lot."

She was able to get an appeal date in December with the help of her attorney Victor Forberger. But she was facing an overdue rent notice, due on January 2. The department said she wouldn't get her benefits until February.

"I contacted the Secretary's office basically say, how can you expedite this hearing and then wait then delay payment for six weeks when she's facing eviction on January 2?" Forberger said. "Payment in February doesn't really help her kids."

By contacting the DWD secretary's office, Serchen said Forberger was able to get some of her benefits by Dec. 31.

"If there are 10,000 cases out there right now," Forberger said. "You can't send in all 10,000 to the Secretary's office."

Cases like Robert Tallinger's. The Waukesha resident also won his PUA appeal in December after he was denied in August, but still hasn't received a dime.

Unemployed winning appeals but still waiting for benefits - Robert Tallinger

"It's just been in a holding pattern," Tallinger said. "I call every other day, every three days."

Tallinger is also Forberger's client. He waited four months for a 15-minute hearing with a department judge.

"She said, I'm not going to make you wait for my decision," Tallinger said. "I'm approving you for PUA."

But a clerical error led to a delay in processing payment, and Tallinger is looking at another six weeks before payment.

"Luckily, I had some money put away, but that's starting to run thin now," Tallinger said.

The I-Team has been contacted by more people in the same boat, told they have to wait for benefits even after they won an appeal.

We asked the DWD to explain why these delays are happening. They did not agree to an on-camera interview. Instead, a spokesperson for the DWD emailed us saying:

"Due to our antiquated system, entering the reversal and implementing the changes within the system (and reflecting how that impacts the original determination) are processes that require manual work. Depending on the individual circumstances and specifics of the claim it could take several days to several weeks. As we continue to get more appeal tribunal decisions processed (potentially adding to this workload), it also means a higher amount of manual processing in certain situations thanks to our dated system."

As of January 20, the department told the I-Team there are around 15,600 appeals waiting to be scheduled for a hearing.

"It's laughably bad," Forberger said.

He believes honest mistakes made during a confusing application process led to more denials, and now a second backlog as people wait to plead their case to a department judge.

"When you flood a bunch of people with a bunch of work when I've got to do 50 zillion things I start making mistakes," he said,

Serchen told us she is still waiting on the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation back pay, which was the additional $600 a week created in the CARES Act last spring.

Meanwhile, Tallinger estimated he is owed a total of $18,000 in backpay.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip