(The Center Square) – Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate say the failings at the state's unemployment office are human, not technical.
"Why do we not have people on the phones?," Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, asked of Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman at a hearing Wednesday. "Because I can tell you there are people out there who have been waiting for seven weeks who will sit and wait till three in the morning to talk to somebody to get their data in, so they can get into the queue. But we're not doing that."
Kapenga is one of many Republicans who are upset with a backlog of unemployment claims that have not been processed.
DWD says the department received 2.4 million weekly claims between March 15 and May 10, and paid 1.7 million of them. That leaves about 700,000 claims that are waiting.
Frostman insists there has been "much misrepresentation" about those pending claims.
"[Of] that remaining 28 percent, 11 percent have been denied due to ineligibility and just under 1 percent are under suspension for a previous over-payment, which leaves 16 percent of all claims held, representing our ongoing case load," Frostman said Wednesday.
Sixteen percent of 700,000 comes to 112,000 claims in the state's backlog.
Kapenga and other Republicans say that is unacceptable.
"We've got to start getting on top of the problem," Kepenga said. "It's not the fault of an antiquated system. It's the fault of just not managing the resources we have in a better way."
Kapenga wants at least a second shift at DWD, currently the unemployment phone lines are open from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.
Frostman and his office said that wouldn't help. DWD's unemployment mainframe is essentially shut down each night at 6 p.m. to process the day's claims.
"The processing that happens after 6 p.m., because of the antiquated system, requires the claim entry system to stop," DWD's Neeraj Kulkarni told lawmakers.
Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said that's just claims processing. He wants to know why DWD cannot talk to unemployment filers, take down their information, and enter it the next day. He says the nearly half-million people who are on unemployment in Wisconsin need something more than complaints about slow computers.
"I'm looking for a little more hope with at least getting us to a point where we're getting caught up on some of these," Wanggaard said Wednesday.
DWD is promising to hire or move 500 more people to take calls at the unemployment hotline, and add 100 more people to file claims. But Frostman's office said that will take at least one week, if not two.
Wanggaard noted that it's been 10-plus weeks since March 15th when unemployment claims started skyrocketing.