Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News last week:
Gov. Tony Evers has made it clear through his veto actions that he wants as many people to continue to receive unemployment benefits for as long as possible despite the abundance of available jobs in the state. A report last week from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau demonstrates just how poorly Evers’ Department of Workforce Development is serving the people
When the pandemic first took hold and the government forced hundreds of thousands of people into the unemployment line, the wave of people crashing into the unemployment system was unprecedented. We learned last September just how badly the DWD handled the crisis.
At the height of the unemployment crisis, only 0.5% of the calls placed by the DWD were being answered. The DWD failed to respond in any meaningful way. They maintained their normal business hours and the call center was only open for 39.58 house per week until late May when it slightly extended its hours.
The performance of Evers’ DWD during the governmentimposed unemployment crisis was so bad that even Governor Evers seemed to admit the failure when he forced the DWD secretary to resign last September. One might have taken such an action to indicate that Evers was finally becoming a competent leader and would fix DWD to serve the people of Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, if there is anything that Tony Evers has shown throughout the entirety of his elected career, he is not a competent leader. Spurred by complaints to the state’s Fraud, Waste, and Mismanagement Hotline, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau investigated multiple allegations that the DWD’s administration of unemployment insurance program was still suffering from delays and mismanagement. The hotline reports included many issues including delayed payments, call center wait times, insufficient assistance, and the failure to comply with state statutes and federal program requirements.
The LAB found that the issues with the call center’s effectiveness were consistent with their findings in January. Based on the continuing complaints, the DWD still has not corrected for the issues even though they have been continuing for over 15 months.
The LAB also dove into the data regarding the DWD complying with certain federal requirements and found that the DWD was woefully out of compliance. One of the requirements imposed by the federal government as a condition for the state to receive funding for the unemployment insurance program is the DWD is required to provide a prompt appeals process for individuals who are denied unemployment benefits. The federal rules require that the state issue appeal decisions for 60% of appeals within 30 days and for at least 80% within 45 days.
The DWD met that standard until May of 2020. Beginning in June 2020, the DWD fell to less than 50% of appeals decided within 45 days. That temporary failure to comply was understandable given the crush of unemployment claims at the time. Unfortunately for Wisconsin’s unemployed, the DWD’s appeals process steadily worsened to the point that as of May 2021, only 17.5% of appeals were decided within 45 days and only 10.2% were decided within 30 days.
The LAB’s report cites one example of how poorly DWD is managing appeals. In September of 2020, a Wisconsinite filed an appeal after being denied unemployment benefits. The DWD did not schedule an appeal hearing until March of 2021 — 26.5 weeks after the appeal was filed. The hearing partially reversed the denial, but then DWD dragged their feet again and did not issue a payment until May of 2021. For this unemployed Wisconsinite, it took almost nine months for the DWD to fix its incorrect denial and make it right. That is an unconscionable delay that has real consequences for the people on the other end of the DWD’s apathy.
Wisconsin’s unemployment crisis has long-since ended. The state is now facing an employment crisis where there are more jobs available than people willing to work them. But if Governor Evers is going to insist that Wisconsinites continue to receive unemployment payments even when there is work available, the least that one should be able to expect is that his DWD would competently run the program. Unfortunately, competence is too high a bar for this governor to meet.