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Wisconsin creating 'plain language' unemployment applications in effort to address claims backlog
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BACKLOG | JOBLESS BENEFITS

Wisconsin creating 'plain language' unemployment applications in effort to address claims backlog

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In an effort to further expedite the processing of Wisconsin’s ongoing backlog of unemployment claims, the state plans to simplify the application process by including more user-friendly language this spring.

The state Department of Workforce Development announced on Monday updates to add “plain language” to the initial and weekly unemployment insurance applications that is “intended to be understandable to all individuals who are likely to use the UI application process, regardless of educational background or regional/cultural language differences, and to ensure application and question clarity.”

By updating the application process, DWD officials hope to reduce erroneous answers that could place claims in the adjudication process and delay payments.

“Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites applied for and received UI benefits in 2020,” said Amy Pechacek, DWD transition director. “But we know many had to wait longer than necessary because they incorrectly answered a question on the application and that triggered an investigation into their eligibility. DWD is making sure that the questions asked of claimants are clear and concise so that people who are applying can answer questions completely and accurately on the front end.”

Like many states, Wisconsin has been inundated with unemployment claims since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The backlog has prompted criticism and calls for action from state Republicans who place the blame on Gov. Tony Evers’ administration. At the same time, DWD officials have said an unprecedented number of claims, paired with GOP-authored unemployment laws, complicated the adjudication process and exacerbated delays.

Pechacek, who inherited DWD’s challenges in September after Evers fired then-Secretary Caleb Frostman, told the Wisconsin State Journal in November the state hoped to clear the backlog in the coming weeks.

As of last week, DWD reported that almost 97% of the more than 8.8 million weekly unemployment claims filed since March 15 had been processed. More than 22,000 claimants were considered to be part of the adjudication backlog — meaning they have waited beyond the standard 21 days it takes for DWD to make a decision on a claim.

In an audit released earlier this month, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau found that DWD was responsible for 11 of the 13 weeks it took, on average, for the department to resolve initial unemployment claims filed in the early weeks of the pandemic. The most common reasons for delays involved instances when DWD had not resolved issues despite having all the necessary information to do so, according to the audit.

DWD is seeking public input on the updated application questions online at dwd.wisconsin.gov/uiapplicationsfeedback. Public comments can be submitted through Jan. 8, and DWD job centers will hold virtual focus groups with volunteers to gather additional feedback.

Updated application language is expected to be implemented in March.

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