(Wisconsin) An audit suggests hundreds of thousands of unemployment benefit applications could have been processed much faster, as the agency tried to contend with an unprecedented number of claims amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Legislative Audit Bureau report found that the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development sent 77-percent of unemployment applicants into pending status when the claims could have been processed.
The audit found that 514,000 of nearly 663,000 claims were put into adjudication over a seven-month period, in order for the department to determine if applicants were eligible. Some of those people were left in adjudication for ten weeks or more. More than 96,000 were still in adjudication at the time the audit was conducted.
In 90-percent of those cases, DWD had the information to process the claim, or it failed to ask for the right information. Things appear to be getting better – the audit did find the average claim took nearly 40 days to process last April – now, processing takes about 8-and-a-half-days. The Republican co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee issued a statement on the findings.
“The audit confirms what the flood of phone calls to legislative offices suggested – DWD is failing to provide the service government is supposed to provide for a substantial number of claimants,” said Representative Kerkman (R-Salem Lakes). “The department was overwhelmed from the very beginning of the Governor’s stay-at-home order – why on earth would they wait until May to increase staffing? This is disturbing and unacceptable.”
“The people of Wisconsin deserve better,” said Senator Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay). “It took an average of 13 weeks to resolve these initial claims, for which DWD is responsible for 11 of them. I know that can never be zero, however when 90% of the instances where time elapsed were due to nothing more than negligence at DWD, it’s clear to me that they could have done much better. Adjudication staff were only working an average of three hours of overtime a week while the people they are serving are having difficulties purchasing their next meal and paying their bills, including rent or mortgage, as they await a determination on their UI, some up to 31.5 weeks. Meanwhile, DWD had been sitting on information or failing to request it for months! Unacceptable.”
Representative Mark Born, co-chair of the Join Finance Committee, says there is absolutely no excuse for the disaster that is going on at the DWD. The Beaver Dam Republican says the audit sheds light on the real problems causing significant delays in payments to the unemployed which is the Evers’ Administration’s inability to step up during a time of need. Born says it is time for the governor to do his job.
The DWD sent out a press release Tuesday, touting that just over 95-percent of the more than 8.7-million weekly unemployment insurance claims that have been filed since March 15th have been processed. The DWD says they will continue to focus its efforts on reducing the wait time for outstanding claims related to the pandemic.