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DWD answers questions about unemployment backlog

Updated: 12:25 p.m. on May 8, 2020 

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- CBS 58's Brittany Lewis and Mark Stevens answer unemployment and stimulus questions in a Facebook Live. 

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Many CBS 58 viewers have reached out and shared frustrating experiences with the unemployment process. 

CBS 58 took some viewer questions to the Department of Workforce Development. Answers listed below are provided by Emily Savard, Program and Policy Analyst for the Unemployment Insurance Division at Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. 

Why are claims pending for weeks?

The staffing and getting more bodies on is the priority because when there is a claim pending, it means at some point that some sort of manual work needs to be done with it. Because we are are, we're working with federal rules and state rules and laws so if a claim is not what we call a clean claim where there are no issues, such as separations within the last 18 months or anything that would raise some sort of eligibility issue, we need to look at those and have some work done on them. 

What we're trying to do right now is simply get bodies in, we need additional staff to work on these items because at this point if somebody has filed their initial application and weekly claims and their claim is pending that means some manual work needs to be done on the claim. 

It could be anything from an issue that needs adjudication, such as if we look at the last 18 months -- all the employment relationships that had occurred if any of them, or for a reason other than layoff due to lack of work -- we need to see if the reason for the separation is one that would allow for the payment of benefits. 

When you get down to it, we are still implementing a federal and state program here and we have to follow the rules and laws that are set up with that program to make sure that people are receiving benefits due to them and employers are being charged as appropriate. So we have to do that, reach back really. 

Getting bodies in and up and running and trained in order to do that manual work that's needed is a priority right now. I know that we are working on finishing up contracting with a couple different call centers. One will be specifically to help yield those questions coming in and others will be used to actually process the work in order to get those determinations issued as needed and to get payments out the door as quickly as we can. 

Do you have a timeline on when those people may be able to start working and those centers be in operation?

I believe that the final touches are happening on some of the contracts, but I believe that they're anticipated to be up and running within the next couple of weeks. 

Why weren't claims just approved and then the research into why the claims were made is done after the payment is received when there are so many people who are now unemployed and have little money right now?

That's because the program is based on federal laws and rules and state laws and rules and we still have to follow those laws and rules and we have to make sure that somebody really is eligible for benefits according to those laws and rules before we are able to pay those benefits out. And that is one of the -- without getting too technical, rules of the program, and our hands are tied in doing that before we're able to make those payments. 

Do you think some of those rules and restrictions should have been lifted temporarily during this time? Would that be helpful for the Department of Workforce Development?

I don't know if that's possible without the federal government getting involved or the Department of Labor getting involved at a national level and saying that these things could occur. So, of course if we didn't have those things and could get payments out the door faster I think it would be easier on everybody involved, but we do have the laws and rules that we still need to follow. 

Are there steps you wish would have been taken from either DWD or from the governor's office or any state entity to help DWD get these claims processed and to help these people get their payments faster?

Since the unemployment department was tasked in administering the CARES Act from the federal government, we're really just doing what we can, but you know, it goes back to us having these very outdated systems, outdated computer programs that take a long time in order to process what we need to have processed. I truly don't know what else could have been done in hindsight without knowing the just, sheer, staggering volume items that would be dropped in our lap within a week or two's time. I really can't say, other than having a sparkly, new computer system that would not need to take all this time to update individual programs or having this money come a different way instead of through the unemployment insurance system. Other than that, I really, I can't say what would have made this easier or better, I think with the situation that we're in, I don't see any way that we, as a department, could have been ready or equipped to handle this workload. 

When will the system be updated?

Updating the system takes resources, it takes money. And all of that, because we are a government agency, typically comes from laws, taxes, grants...so at this time, we aren't able to do anything with our system other than updating each program as it's coming along. That's taking all of our resources and every time we have a new program we have to figure out what's needed in order to take those claims, get payments out the door. Those things need IT workers to actually do the manual coding of it on the back end, it needs to be tested to make sure that nothing goes drastically wrong and then it needs to go out to the public, and at this point, we're stretched to the limit with our resources just implementing these CARES act programs that have come in, so we don't have the resources to be able to do anything extra other than make this CARES program work. 

How old is the system?

Our main frame system that's the internal core workings is from the 1970's, I believe. It's based on, I think it's called COBOL coding. It's a certain type of coding language that is very old and very outdated and we've been able to update the outward facing system a bit throughout the years, but I'm not quite sure how we'd go about or the type of money it would take to update that internal portion of our computer system. But it's very old, it takes a lot of time to update, and it's rickety. 

Why have some not received back pay or waiting week payments?

I believe the only reason people would still be waiting on their waiting week payment is if they have an eligibility issue that has not been addressed yet, so that waiting week would not pay out until it's known that that week would truly be payable. 

If a claimant's valid new claim week, meaning that they started their benefit year, is prior to the week of March 15, the waiting week still applies, so that could be a situation where someone heard, 'Oh, the waiting week is going away.' They make think it applies to their case, but if they had started their benefit year before March 15, then that would not apply to them. 

Are the pending cases at the top of the to-do list?

We're just dealing with the cases as we can, ideally going from the oldest cases to the newest cases and trying to get those out the door. 

What about the $600 weekly payment from the federal government?

Those are coming out in batches so they have not all been sent out yet. We had noted that we would have them out by the end of this week. May 8 was the original target date to have all those payments taken care of. 

*The Department of Workforce Development says the payments are being sent out by social security number. 

CBS 58's Mark Stevens sat down with the Department of Workforce Development Secretary. Watch that interview here

Secretary Frostman said after a glitch with paying out the extra $600 benefit people have been waiting on for weeks, the money started flowing Wednesday night. 

Thursday, May 7, he said, "We're moving forward likely tonight, with a much larger batch and get the remainder out, Friday night's batch over the weekend."

If people still have pending cases with DWD will they still be able to get the $600 payments from the federal government?

Yes, they will. Anybody who is found eligible for unemployment benefits gets that additional $600 on top of whatever regular unemployment benefits they would receive. 

What if they haven't received any yet and their case is still pending? Will they get the payment by the end of the week or do they have to wait until their claim is approved?

They would need to wait until whatever eligibility issue or whatever issue is holding up their claim is taken care of. If benefits are approved then they would receive that $600. So it may be in the future, but they would receive back payment of those $600 for each week that they would have due to them. 

Why was the payment not the full $600?

That money is taxable so if somebody did choose to have their taxes taken out when they filed their claim, we would take those taxes out of that payment. So if they feel that those taxes should not have been taken out, that would be simply if they choose not to have federal or state taxes taken out of their unemployment, they would need to go onto their claimant portal and change that choice of having taxes taken out, taxes withheld. But we like to tell people, eventually they'll need to pay those taxes so it's either do it right away and forget about it or they may have a surprising tax bill come tax time next year. 

Why was double child support taken out of some payments?

There was a little hiccup at the end of last week with the $600 payments so one situation is that double child support was taken out. So we are aware of it and we are looking at it and working through it. 

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