More than a half-million people who have filed an unemployment claim during the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin have yet to find out whether they will receive benefits, according to figures released recently by the Department of Workforce Development.
But the state agency is getting caught up with those claims after being flooded with applications since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March.
In Jefferson County, 9,291 claims have been filled this year. But that does not mean there are that many people on unemployment in the county at this time, as the number includes all of individuals recipients’ weekly payments.
Last week, there were 269,036 weekly claims filed in the state, said Tyler Tichenor, a communications specialist for the DWD.
“Projections show we should be back to a normal workload by the end of summer,” he said.
The DWD lists Jefferson County as having an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent in May. The most recent figures are not yet available. The state overall is at 12-percent unemployment.
“Almost 90 percent of claims filed between March 15 and May 2 have resolved, meaning that they have either been paid or denied,” DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said. “There is still a lot of work to do, but with the additional resources the department has put into place, we are making great strides in clearing claims and delivering better customer service for Wisconsinites.”
One of the reasons for the slow response to the number of claims being filed in the state was agency staffing. In mid-March when the pandemic started, there were 62 people working at the DWD call center. As of Monday, the agency had 538 people.
Many frustrated filers who tried to contact the state agency have complained that it’s difficult to get anyone to talk to. The DWD reported that it has received 342,834 calls since the pandemic started.
When Gov. Tony Evers declared the “Safer-at-Home” order in March, unemployment claims skyrocketed in the state and county. In a two-week period, more than 1,500 people filed for unemployment benefits in Jefferson County. While that number of claims still is high, only 332 people filed a new claim last week.
In Wisconsin, more than $2.2 billion worth of state and federal unemployment benefits have been paid to residents.
For those who have been receiving the extra $600 per week provided through a federal pandemic aid package, there is no sign that lawmakers will be taking action to extend it. The extra payment each week runs out July 25. After that, weekly unemployment benefits Wisconsin offers are capped at $390 a week.
In May, House Democrats passed a $3 trillion coronavirus package that would have extended the $600 in extra payments until January. But the Republican-controlled Senate has not taken action on the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the plan a liberal “wish list.”
Last week, Wisconsin residents who are running out of unemployment benefits received some good news. State residents now can apply for 13 more weeks of unemployment benefits funded by the federal coronavirus relief bill, the DWD announced.
Residents who have exhausted their 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits can apply for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation under the bill. Payments will be equivalent to the individual’s regular unemployment payout. The first check is retroactive to April 4.
Residents who are eligible for the emergency compensation also are eligible for an additional $600 per week of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.
As of Tuesday, the state has seen more than 28,000 cases of COVID-19.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.