FILE - Wisconsin State Capitol

The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.

(The Center Square) – A new state audit lays the blame for Wisconsin’s months-long unemployment backlog on the state’s Department of Workforce Development.

The Legislative Audit Bureau released the report Monday. 

Auditors found that workers at DWD didn’t follow up with people who’d filed claims, or didn’t process the information they had, delaying payments for up to 13 weeks or even longer. 

“We estimate that DWD was responsible for 11 of the 13 weeks that it took, on average, to resolve the initial claims of the 250 individuals,” the audit stated. “For example, DWD was responsible for time that elapsed before it requested information it needed from individuals and employers, and for time that elapsed after it had the information necessary to pay or deny program benefits but did not do so.” 

The audit also found DWD had not resolved issues even though it had the information to do so; DWD had not requested information it needed from individuals; and DWD had not requested information it needed from employers.

Wisconsin’s unemployment backlog had more than 500,000 claims pending at the beginning of December. Nearly 70,000 people in the state were still waiting to be paid. Some of them have been waiting since March. 

Auditors said DWD is almost entirely to blame for the backlog and the long waits.

Republican lawmakers said the audit shows their worst fears about incompetence at DWD were true. 

“The audit confirms what the flood of phone calls to legislative offices suggested – DWD is failing to provide the service that government is supposed to provide for a substantial number of claimants,” Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem Lakes, said. “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?”

Kirkman added: “This is disturbing and unacceptable.” 

She’s not alone. 

“The people of Wisconsin deserve better,” Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, said. “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.”

For months, DWD managers and Gov. Evers said the backlogs and delays should be blamed on outdated computers at the department, or a lack of employees. 

Cowles said the audit shows those excuses are untrue. 

“DWD had been sitting on information or failing to request it for months, Unacceptable,” Cowles said. “DWD’s detailed process for a claim determination in their audit response made it far easier to realize that some additional time, effort, and attention could have easily saved weeks and months for the thousands who were awaiting UI benefits, thus saving anguish, frustration, and depression for too many Wisconsinites.”