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Unemployment delays persist; 15% of all weekly claims still pending

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MADISON (WKOW) -- You can hear the 'L' train rumble past Elyse Albino's apartment on the South Side of Chicago during an interview Wednesday. While Albino now lives in Illinois, she worked in Wisconsin during the period for which she seeks unemployment benefits.

Like so many others across the state, Albino applied for unemployment insurance in March. She said after waiting for several weeks, she was notified in late May that her application had been approved.

Yet the money never came. Albino said when she followed up with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, she eventually heard back from the agency and was told her case is actually still pending.

"The person who called me back yesterday said that whoever I talked to before her was wrong and if the adjudicator needed more information and needs to talk to me or needed evidence, they would contact me and not the other way around," Albino said.

Albino is one of the 651,463 people who applied for unemployment in Wisconsin between March 15 and June 13. According to the DWD, more than 850,000 weekly claims have either been rejected or are still pending. 15.2% of all weekly claims are still awaiting resolution.

The ongoing delays, causing some applicants to have waited three months without an answer, prompted State Rep. Steve Nass (R - Whitewater) to call for the resignation or firing of Mark Reihl, the Administrator of DWD's Unemployment division.

DWD referred all questions about Reihl to Governor Tony Evers' office Wednesday. A spokesperson in the governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

DWD Program & Policy Analyst Emily Savard said in an interview Wednesday the process of adjudicating individual claims can be very time-consuming and, without confirmation from past employers, can drag the process out even longer.

"I mean things like a quit from any employer within the past 18 months, a discharge from any employer within the last 18 months," Savard said. "We're not just talking about what happened at the time of the pandemic with the most recent employer, we need to look at the whole history of their claim."

Albino was adamant her paperwork was all in order, which she said is confirmed by DWD's initial approval of her application. Savard said she couldn't speak specifically to Albino's case but added it's possible information in a weekly claim got flagged separate from the initial application for benefits.

"What may have happened is, dependent on the answer someone gave on a weekly claim, that may have triggered an eligibility issue that we would need to look into," Savard said.

Albino said, whatever the issue may be, she should know if there's a problem a lot sooner than after 13 weeks of waiting.

"It's very annoying and I don't like all the uncertainty," she said. "What's really frustrating is so many parts are out of my control."

Staffing Update

Savard said DWD had 134 claims adjudicators on staff when the "safer at home" order came down in March. She said that total has since grown to 259 adjudicators with another 65 DWD employees coming over from other departments to help process claims.

Savard added that an outside call center with whom the DWD had contracted has finished training 153 staff members to answer calls. She said DWD expects to have that total up to 200 by the end of June.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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