When you arrive at the website of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), you're greeted with a message that DWD is "experiencing an unprecedented call volume" and told if you're inquiring about unemployment insurance to call at a certain time according to the first letter of your last name. We know people have had trouble contacting DWD and have been waiting for a response on their unemployment insurance (UI) claims for weeks, even months. So it's not surprising that calls have been steadily streaming into the Speaker's Office asking for assistance. My staff continues to work with our constituents and other individuals from across the state who are more than frustrated with how UI questions are being handled at DWD.
This week we got more insight into just how bad the problem really is at DWD. The backlog of unpaid claims has grown to more than 700,000 and the agency admits it may not be able to catch up until this fall. This is simply unacceptable. Legislators and the public heard directly from DWD Secretary Scott Frostman at an informational hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform this week, which you can watch on WisconsinEye. The agency says it is hiring more employees and expanding the call center operating schedule by two hours. Republicans will continue to advocate for a better response for the people of Wisconsin and hold this agency accountable for its poor performance.
On top of the problems of processing claims for the unemployed, we have come to learn that the Evers administration isn't following the law. The legislature's Coronavirus Response Bill that Governor Evers signed into law required UI claims specifically related to the COVID-19 emergency not be charged to a contribution employer's UI account for the remainder of 2020. Instead, the law directed that these claims be charged to the UI balancing account, which is supported by interest on the UI Trust Fund and the solvency tax paid by employers. The goal was to mitigate the huge increases that employers could see as a result of the regular June 30 calculation. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and I sent Governor Evers a letter alerting him to the fact that DWD has chosen not to follow the law and as a result, employers could face massive tax increases. This is exactly what the legislation sought to avoid, which is why we asked him to correct the problem. We can't allow the state to increase taxes right now on the very businesses who are struggling to reopen and want to people back to work.