State officials address unemployment challenges

Published: Apr. 9, 2020 at 5:17 PM CDT
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The nationwide number of people filing unemployment claims jumped dramatically Thursday -- as expected.

Wisconsin was no exception.

The coronavirus pandemic and our Safer at Home order have led to layoffs and furloughs as businesses close or see a drop in sales.

The U.S. government says another 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. That's the second-largest number of initial unemployment claims in history -- the largest being the week before.

The effects of the pandemic are showing up in Wisconsin's unemployment numbers. More than 200,000 people received unemployment benefits last week, and there were an additional 100,000 new applications.

Thursday afternoon, the state told us it's distributed more than $68 million in unemployment benefits since March 15.

Thursday, Wisconsin's Workforce Development leaders joined in a Facebook Live video conference with the Department of Health Services.

People submitted questions that expressed their frustration with the unemployment process.

As you would expect from those numbers, there are a lot of people in the unemployment system right now or trying to get into it.

One question for Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman came from a woman who filed a month ago and wanted to know when she would see money to pay her bills.

"We are working extremely hard to make sure we have a timely resolution to claims," Frostman answered. "Some of these claims have further issues that require clarification or adjudication. We are working really hard to maintain a strong response time. We are currently 97% of our adjucations are being resolved in 21 days."

Frostman said the number of unemployment claims is unprecedented. The 116,000 initial claims filed two weeks ago is more than twice the highest amount of any week during the Great Recession.

Frostman said they are processing 25,000 claims a day, and ones that don't require special work are processed in days rather than weeks.

Still, you've told us stories of long waits in the system. The DWD says it's receiving 100,000 calls per hour.

Amy Banicki, Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance Deputy Administrator, said, 'We've had a lot of problems, like Secretary Frostman has mentioned, but people are able to get through if they are patient. Our wait time is pretty high right now, but we are also returning calls, so people, if they could continue to try to reach us."

They emphasized that going online is the best first option. The website for unemployment online services is


The state says it is shifting personnel to the unemployment office and also told people on the video call that it is hiring.

The state is also still in the process of putting in place the extra $600 per person from the federal CARES Act that would supplement unemployment payments from the state.

However, the state is not set up yet to even start those applications. It's working toward opening that up on April 21.