Audit committee grills DWD leaders over handling of UI benefits, backlog expected to be erased by January
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – The state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee pressed Department of Workforce Development leaders for answers as to why the agency was slow to respond to the surge of unemployment claims due to the pandemic and what the plan is going forward as tens of thousands of claims remain jammed in a backlog.
“I want to hear some answers,” committee co-chair Sen. Robert Cowles said in opening remarks. “I hope we can focus on the future and put this nightmare behind us.”
The GOP-controlled committee heard testimony from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau which examined three aspects of DWD in separate audits including the agency’s handling of overpayment of some claims in April, the department’s call centers and the overall processing of unemployment claims.
LAB made recommendations to DWD based on its audits.
Republican members of the committee also grilled DWD leaders on things like staffing, training and communication in the months since the start of the pandemic.
“Our office became a call center, because they couldn’t get through to you,” committee co-chair Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R – Salem) said.
DWD leaders noted the unprecedented task they were faced with in their testimony.
“From March through last week, UI received over 8.7 million claims,” DWD Transition Director Amy Pechacek said. “And in the four years prior to 2020, they received a total of 7.1 million claims. So it’s doing four years of work in nine months.”
Pechacek said there are about 35,000 claims that remain that have been unresolved for more than 21 days and the department is aiming to erase that backlog by the end of the year.
“We’re going to continue to work at this for the next two and a half weeks and that remains our goal,” Pechacek said.
The committee’s leaders said they are hopeful DWD can accomplish that goal, but are cautious.
“We’ll be following to make sure that the claims they say they will be able to get through and process get done,” Rep. Kerkman.
The committee is expecting another report on DWD in January as well as Governor Tony Evers’ budget in February to see what next steps are for fixing issues at the agency.