DWD Secretary: $600 payments going out, state hiring employees and contractors for unemployment backlog

DWD Secretary: $600 payments going out, state hiring employees and contractors for unemployment backlog

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance system has been hampered by the number of people who need help and a computer system from the 1970’s. Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman said the department just signed a contract to get more people answering the phone, and is in the process of getting more people to process claims.

“(It’s) meant to bring on approximately 500 staff to handle UI claims over the phone, answer questions about the status of folks' claims, and to also triage some of the more complicated calls,” said Frostman.

Frostman says the state is also getting two more call centers under contract and working on bringing in 300 additional state workers to get through the unemployment backlog. Currently, about a third of people who’ve filed claims still haven’t gotten a payment. Those claims are caught in the review process.

In one week DWD staff had “140,000 claimants with 240,000 issues,” said Frostman.

He said the agency brought back retired staff and borrowed employees from other state agencies to reprogram the state’s unemployment computer system. It dates back to the 1970’s and uses computer language from the 1950’s.

“Finding programmers that are familiar with the COBOL system has been a challenge,” said Frostman.

He said the department is making progress. After a glitch with paying out the extra $600 benefit people have been waiting on for weeks, the money started flowing Wednesday night.

“We’re moving forward likely tonight, with a much much larger batch and get the remainder out, Friday night’s batch over the weekend,” said Frostman.

Frostman said he’s proud of the work his staff has done dealing with an unprecedented number of people filing for jobless benefits, but he said there’s more work to do.

“May is going to be a really pivotal month for us to make sure we get everything stood up,” said Frostman.

Watch the full interview below:

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