Will Wisconsin's unemployment backlog be cleared anytime soon?

94,000 people are still waiting for benefits
Virus Outbreak Unemployment Benefits
Posted at 6:51 AM, Nov 17, 2020
and last updated 2021-03-19 17:13:20-04

Thousands of people are still waiting for unemployment benefits in November, as the backlog of unpaid claims that started in March has reached its ninth month.

The DWD said more than 74,000 were waiting for unemployment benefits as of Nov. 10, along with 20,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applicants.

Many of the thousands of people waiting are watching the news out of the state Capitol closely for an update as to when they can expect their benefits.

"Why are we continuously electing people that aren't doing their jobs?" said Chenon Times-Rainwater.

Times-Rainwater is an administrator of the Facebook group Wisconsin Unemployment Support Group. More than 5,000 people are in the group, asking each other for advice as they wait for answers and solutions from the state.

"It takes leadership to address that it takes people standing up and saying, wait a minute, we have a problem," Times-Rainwater said.

Back in July, Senate Democrats introduced a number of proposals to reform the unemployment system, including permanently removing the one week waiting period for benefits as well as reversing the law disqualifying federal disability recipients from unemployment benefits.

"We've had too many neighbors across the state who had to wait weeks and in some cases months to be able to get assistance and a bipartisan basis, we should be able to fix that so that these problems, never happen again in Wisconsin," Larson said.

Those proposals never received a vote, and the Legislature hasn't met in more than 200 days.

"It's one of those issues that I think they thought that this will just fix itself," Larson said. "It's like the 'check engine' light that shows up on your car and you just kind of hope that it'll just resolve itself."

Republicans argue the Democrats' proposal would open to door for fraud in the unemployment system. Instead, they have proposed using $40 million in federal relief dollars to offer jobless residents low interest, forgivable loans.

"A forgivable loan program for people that are just simply waiting to navigate through the adjudication process, who we know are going to qualify," said state Rep. John Nygren, a Marinette Republican.

The loan program would help as many as 30,000 people, according to a memo from when the plan was unveiled. That same plan noted there were 141,000 people waiting on benefits at that point in time.

Nygren also said Republicans are willing to secure funding to upgrade or replace the 1970s-era claims processing technology, which the Department of Workforce Development has pointed to as one of the reasons for the backlog

All year, Republicans argued the technology wasn't to blame, instead of putting it on leadership. Nygren does not concede upgrading the system will solve the overall problem.

"If that's no longer the problem we could check that off the box and let's identify the other things that are continuing to be a problem," he said.

Both lawmakers indicate movement on any proposal likely won't move forward until January at the earliest when lawmakers return to Madison.

At that point, the backlog will reach its eleventh month.

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