CBS 58 Investigates: DWD adjudication backlog

CBS 58 Investigates: DWD adjudication backlog

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – Over 140,000 unemployed people in Wisconsin are caught in a twilight zone. The state needs to review a problem with their unemployment claim before it pays benefits. But a CBS 58 Investigation found people waiting more than two months to hear anything.

People stuck waiting weeks for Wisconsin to decide whether their unemployment filings clear said they’re running out of options and losing hope.

“I’m already donating plasma from time to time,” said Robert Agnew Jr.

Agnew’s blood plasma is worth $40 each time he donates. He is maxing out his donations at twice a week this month because his unemployment benefits have been stuck since April.

“There’s no updates on my UI online account,” said Agnew.

He’s one of four people CBS 58 Investigates interviewed who’ve been waiting weeks to get any update on their claims from the state.

“I can’t take care of my kids, I can’t take care of my bills, I can’t take care of myself,” said Annastasia Tracy.

“Everything matches, so it’s not the people that are messed up, it’s the computer system,” said Mark Schmudlach.

“I’ve already gotten an eviction notice at my apartment complex and explained to them I’m furloughed, here’s my paperwork,” said Ashley Morales.

States are supposed to make rulings on unemployment problems within 21 days. Last year, Wisconsin was able to meet that standard between April and June 86.1 percent of the time. This year, that number has fallen to 55.9 percent.

“At this time, that is something no state is going to meet just because of the sheer volume of cases that we’ve received,” said DWD Policy Analyst Emily Savard.

She spent eight years as an adjudicator for DWD. She says ruling on unemployment gets complicated. The adjudicators need information from the person who filed, their job, they may even need information from other states.

“Other states have the same amount of work that Wisconsin does right now, so that may slow things up a bit too,” said Savard.

Savard said DWD had 142 adjudicators in mid-March when the rush of claims started. She said they’re now getting to claims on hold since April.

“You guys are just getting into April, it's June,” said Investigative Reporter Mark Stevens.

“Right when the pandemic hit, we had over 240,000 individuals file unemployment applications,” said Savard.

Savard said DWD now has 477 adjudicators with another 50 in training. The state has split up the training as well, focusing groups of adjudicators on specific problems, instead of having to learn everything.

“In order to get those cases out the door more quickly,” said Savard.

“She was just willing to help me out with that,” said Ashley Morales, explaining how her mom picked up the tab for her overdue rent. But she says her job as a banquet sales manager doesn’t seem likely to come back soon and the job search isn’t going well.

“A lot of places I’ve applied to, they’ve pretty much denied me because I’m overqualified,” said Morales.

Without unemployment yet, there’s only so much money her mom can lend.

“It’s only so much longer that she can pay too,” said Morales.

DWD has said previously it hopes to get back to normal by mid-August, although it could be as late as October. And normal still means attempting to meet a 21-day standard.

The state is working on clearing the oldest claims first. It said it has paid nearly 406,000 people since March 15.

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