DWD releases recent Unemployment claim figures
MADISON – On the afternoon of Thursday April 9, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) released the total number of new applications, weekly claims, and amount distributed for unemployment benefits for the time period of March 15 to April 6.
Between March 15 and April 6, 2020, the total number of new applications submitted for unemployment benefits was 313,068, with weekly claims reaching 589,616. The total amount in unemployment benefits distributed equaled $68,759,104.
By comparison, during the same period in 2019, the total number of new applications paled in comparison, 17,748, with weekly claims of 155,148. The total amount of unemployment benefits during this period was $39,597,111.
“The fact that initial claims ballooned by more than 1600% illustrates the unprecedented nature of this pandemic and its effect on our economy,” Secretary Caleb Frostman said. “The IT infrastructure of the UI division was not adequately modernized coming out of the Great Recession, which has forced DWD’s staff to work overtime, nights, and weekends to process unemployment claims to support out-of-work Wisconsinites. We are confident that our accelerated and expanded hiring, along with real-time telecom and IT improvements will help alleviate claimant backlogs. Nevertheless, we understand how important it is to get these payments out as quickly as possible, and we are doing everything we can to get people the help they need.”
To handle the record volume of unemployment claims, DWD has taken extensive internal measures to meet the demand.
DWD Staffing Measures:
• Over 150 unemployment Insurance Division’s (UI) employees are working overtime.
• Trained and transferred 35 employees from another DWD division to assist the UI call center, with an additional 45 being trained for part-time assistance.
• Recruiting to hire 36 claim specialists.
• Hiring up to 25 positions to work on manual tasks that need to be performed on a claim and 60 limited-term employees to process paperwork.
• Assigned eight employees to make outgoing calls to applicants whose online applications required contact with DWD staff.
• Online claimants who were previously instructed to call DWD now receive a message that a claims specialist will call them back within five business days to assist them in completing their initial claim. These claim specialists have cleared more than 1,000 claims since this began on March 27.
• Successfully recruited UI retirees to return to DWD to help as limited-term employees.
DWD IT Measures:
• Extended allowable time to complete application filing to 28 days (was 14 days).
• Updating FAQs on a consistent basis.
• Acquired additional trunk to allow for greater call inbound and outbound center functionality during excessive call periods.
• Updated videos on “How to Apply for Unemployment,” “How to File Weekly Claims,” and “How to Create a Username and Password.”
• Claimants can change their last name using claimant portal.
On top of the measures in additional staffing and technology, DWD is developing the application for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), with the goal of taking the first applications the week of April 21, 2020. PUA was established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was signed into law on March 27, 2020. It temporarily expands UI eligibility to those who are otherwise ineligible for state UI benefits, including those who are self-employed, free lancers, independent contractors, and part-time workers impacted by COVID-19. Workers will be eligible for retroactive benefits (as far back as Feb. 2, 2020) and can receive benefits for up to 39 weeks.
The CARES Act also created the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, which provides an additional $600 per week through July 31, 2020 to those who are eligible for UI and PUA benefits. Wisconsin hopes to be ready to start making these payments the week of April 26, 2020.