Capitol Update
by Senator Howard Marklein
October 16, 2020


Unemployment Audit Results Disappointing

My office has received 524 contacts related to unemployment compensation claims since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic – 22 this week alone! I have heard from 221 individuals who needed help to receive their unemployment compensation, including 22 this week, and there are still several who have not received their checks!

The legislature has been consistently working with the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to seek help for our constituents and to increase funding, staffing and capacity to accommodate the influx of unemployment compensation claims since the Governor’s original shut-down order last spring. We allocated more money, authorized more positions and allowed the department to contract with an outside vendor for a call center to help them answer phones.
Unfortunately, all of this expansion has not helped. There are still people who have not received their checks! 
This is very concerning as the Governor has issued a new Executive Order to reduce capacity in many businesses to 25%. I understand why he made this decision, but I am concerned about the people who may be filing for unemployment in the coming weeks due to this new order. The department did not have a plan and was not prepared for the predictable massive number of claims last spring. Are they prepared now?
I hope that Amy Pechacek the new Transition Director of DWD has made the changes necessary to serve the people who are waiting from last spring – as well as those new filers who will be accessing the program this fall. When the Governor asked former Secretary Caleb Frostman to resign, I was hopeful that new leadership would improve the department. I continue to monitor the situation. But I also continue to receive calls from constituents who are still waiting on checks.
This is why I was eager to review the Legislative Audit Bureau’s (LAB) recent audit of the Unemployment Insurance Call Centers. The scope of the audit was to figure out why so many claims are still delayed, individuals have not received their checks and the phones are still not being answered by DWD or the private vendors who are supposed to be taking up the slack.  You may read the full audit report here.
The audit found that from March 15, 2020 to June 30, 2020, 38.8 million of the 41.1 million total telephone calls (93.3%) to the call centers were blocked or received busy signals.  6.2% were abandoned by the individuals before speaking with the call centers.  Only 0.5% of calls were answered by DWD.
From March 15, 2020 – July 31, 2020, DWD spent $9.3 million, including $6.3 million to vendors, to staff the call centers. They doubled their staff from 90 on March 31, 2020 to 188 on July 31, 2020.  But the calls were still not being answered.
The LAB said, “We recommend DWD include in its weekly reports to the co-chairpersons of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee the total number of telephone calls that were unable to reach the call centers, develop a records disposition authorization for its telephone call data, and require the two entities that operate call centers to report certain contractually required information on their performance.”
While much of the Unemployment Compensation program may be accessed online, anyone who is in adjudication, makes a mistake on their application or has a question needs to call the department. When a person’s claim goes into adjudication, it means that there is an issue that must be resolved. Many of these “issues” are simple and easy to resolve with a quick review and conversation. Others must be investigated.
Unfortunately, the backlog and lag of adjudication is holding up a lot of claims. Adjudication involves a manual review of the case. It takes an adjudicator, or staff person at DWD, to open a file and make a decision. Often, this process requires a phone conversation. However, this is where the call center issues are causing the biggest problems. How does a person reach an adjudicator when they can’t even reach the department?
Again, I am very hopeful that Transition Director Pechacek has made the changes necessary to serve our citizens efficiently and effectively. My team and I will continue to serve as a resource and send inquiries to DWD on behalf of our citizens to ensure they are served quickly and effectively. I appreciate everyone’s patience and willingness to ask me for assistance.
As always, please do not hesitate to connect with me to provide input, ideas or to seek assistance.  Send an email to sen.marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov or call 608-266-0703.