MADISON (WKOW) -- Officials at the Department of Workforce Development said this week they're confident they will clear the list of claims waiting for a decision before the pandemic is over.
Currently, more than 30,000 claims have yet to be resolved. Nearly 6,500 cases have been scheduled for initial adjudication. Nearly 8,000 more have yet to be scheduled for review.
Beyond that, more than 14,000 people have appealed the initial ruling for their claims and are waiting for that appeal to be scheduled. More than 3,000 appeals have been scheduled for review.
"After the great recession of 2008, the agency took two years to get through their backlog of appeals," said DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek. "We will be through our appeals before the pandemic is even over."
Pechacek says her source of confidence is the agency more than tripling the number of administrative judges reviewing the appeals; DWD has gone from 17 to 63 judges with Pechacek cautioning it takes time to get those judges fully prepared to handle cases.
"It's not like we can call a staffing agency and say 'please send us judges,'" she said.
Pechacek said claims were moving through the system more efficiently on the front end thanks to an upgraded online portal. The big difference is it allows people to submit necessary documents online; previously, claimants had to submit documents either via fax or by mail.
"Now folks can upload documents right from their phone, right from their laptop," Pechacek said. "They can take a photo, so we're excited about that."
As for the much larger project of overhauling the agency's outdated claims processing technology, Pechacek said DWD is undertaking that job one step at a time.
She said the agency was working with two consultant groups using $2.4 million in federal grant money to find partners who can best perform each branch of the system overhaul.
While Governor Evers put nearly $80 million in his proposed two-year budget to perform the job, lawmakers on the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee balked at the idea.
Lawmakers instead told DWD to go get bids for projects and return to the committee seeking funding once contractors submitted their bits. Pechacek said that process is now well underway.
"We've actually already issued now our first of many RFPs so we're gonna be modernizing incrementally," she said. "The first RFP we've issued is to fully upgrade our call center."
Pechacek said DWD was seeking to transition its call center to a cloud-based operation. She said the move would allow the call center to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Currently, DWD officials have said the call center has to close at night because otherwise it would interfere with the outdating processing system's handling of that day's claims, which happens overnight.