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Advocate says DWD needs more help to clear 540,000 unemployment claims

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MADISON (WKOW) - An advocate for people still waiting for unemployment benefits says the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) needs an outsider's review to speed the processing of more than 540,000 claims.

DWD officials this week hailed the fact 93% of claims have been processed. The department doubled its claims workforce in July. Last month, DWD officials said the state was partnering with Google Cloud to help speed processing by introducing analytics in evaluating claims, and allowing claimants to electronically submit documents and to be contacted electronically instead of by phone or fax.

Chenon Times-Rainwater of West Bend helps steer the Wisconsin Unemployment Support Group and the Wisconsin Action Group. Between the two, Times-Rainwater says there are six thousand Facebook followers. She says the groups allow people waiting for benefits to network, strategize and vent. "They're frustrated, they're upset, and there's no rhyme or reason for their claims to have not been processed," Times-Rainwater says.

Deanna Feist's job at Janesville's Grainger Company was eliminated in May. Feist says DWD staff have told her, her unemployment benefits claims process is complete and funds are forthcoming, but she has seen nothing.

"I'm at my breaking point," Feist says. "Not only am I worried about my creditors, but I'm worried about the people close to me that's been helping me," she says.

Times-Rainwater says DWD's unemployment division staff structure is bogging down claims processing. "Right now, one claim is touched by eight people."

Times-Rainwater says DWD's unemployment division's systems need to be evaluated. "And it really is an immediate remedy, for our leaders to bring in a consultant firm or a task force to the unemployment division to address the issues of processing."

27 News reached out to DWD officials for comment on the claims processing rate and the call for more analysis of claims systems, but they have yet to respond.

Times-Rainwater believes there needs to be focus on the people who represent the seven percent of pending claims. She says her groups are trying to keep people connected and strong. "The first thing you can do is breathe," Times-Rainwater says of her counsel to those waiting for benefits. "We can't allow this situation to win."

Times-Rainwater says her advocacy is informed by her own period of experiencing delay in waiting for unemployment insurance benefits. "When we didn't have income, you worry, 'How are we going to take care of our kids?' "

Feist says if promised payment is delayed much longer, she at a loss of what her Plan-B will be. "There's no one left to help me."

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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