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Politics & Government

Wisconsin Department Of Workforce Development Overpaid Millions In Unemployment Claims

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The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development still has a backlog of nearly 35,000 unemployment claims and a new report from the state auditor's office shows they overpaid more than $20 million in claims this year.

For months, the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD) has been criticized for its backlog of unpaid unemployment claims. Currently, it's at more than 35,000. That's a reduction from nearly 400,000 last summer. The backlog led to the resignation of the department's secretary, Caleb Frostman, in September.

But many Democrats, including Sen. Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee, said Wednesday that the backlog has more to do with the infrastructure than any mismanagement or lack of leadership.

"I believe what ended up happening is the information had to manually be put into the computer. They had to shut down the computers in order to enter the information and so you could have added 10 million people, but as long as you have pretty antiquated software, it's not going to change much," Carpenter said.

State Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary Amy Pechacek also testified Wednesday before the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. She currently is the transition director of the DWD. Pechacek said the overwhelming reason for the backlog was the unprecedented number of unemployment claims caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"From March through last week of 2020, UI (unemployment insurance) had received over 8.7 million weekly claims. In the four years prior to 2020, they received a total of 7.1 million weekly claims. So it's doing four years of work in nine months," said Pachacek.

According to the latest report from DWD, the average number of days from application to payment for regular unemployment insurance is 28 days.  

In addition to having a backlog of unpaid benefits and a slow process time, DWD overpaid millions of dollars in claims. That's according to state auditor Joe Chrisman.

"The available information indicated the DWD may have overpaid an estimated $21.2 million in program benefits on April 28 and 29 of this year, however, DWD may have overpaid additional benefits," he said. 

DWD says it's recovered $19.6 million in duplicate payments. Despite the recovered payments and the reduction in unpaid claims, many Republicans remain unsatisfied with the department's performance. Republican Sen. Chris Kapenga of Delafield said DWD employees should work more hours until people receive their benefits.

"It's incumbent upon us and it's incumbent upon you to say, 'Team, we got to step up here until we get on top of it.' So 50 hours to me is not good enough when we got people not paying their rent," he said.

The department's transition director Pechacek said employees have been working overtime for 28 weeks, on top of 10 hours of mandated overtime for four straight weeks. She also laid out plans to overhaul the department’s technology.

In January, DWD is due to provide the Joint Legislative Audit Committee with follow up information on its efforts. By then, Pechacek said the department will have caught up on all the claims.

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