Unemployment claims skyrocket, Wisconsinites await benefits

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Niko Vera now spends more time at the park and working side jobs to make ends meet.

He got unlucky making a career move.

"I quit my job, probably a week before the lockdown started, and had two interviews that day,” Vera said.

He did get a job offer, but it was disrupted by the pandemic.

"The start date got pushed back to an undefined time.”

Now he’s starting the process of filing unemployment. But about 17 million Americans, like bartender Angela Vazquez,  are ahead of him, according to data released Friday.

“On St. Patrick’s Day is when we got the letter from City Hall that we were closing down.” 

She got on the phone right away, but hasn’t gotten a dime from the state.

She worries it’s because she wasn’t laid off, but her employer hasn’t given her hours in weeks. They worried she could have COVID-19, and she's been in quarantine.

“First week was a waiting week," Vazquez said. "I applied the next week. That one’s in review. I applied the week after, and that one's on hold from the week before.”

Between March 15 and April 6, the total number of new applications submitted for unemployment benefits in Wisconsin was 313,068, with weekly claims reaching 589,616. The total amount in unemployment benefits distributed equaled $68,759,104.

By comparison, during the same period in 2019, the total number of new applications paled in comparison, 17,748, with weekly claims of 155,148. The total amount of unemployment benefits during this period was $39,597,111.

Emily Savard with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development says the volume of requests is making reviews of cases like Vazquez's take longer.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before," Savard said. "Even during the Great Recession we didn’t come anywhere near these numbers, because that was more of a gradual increase in unemployment."

Savard says the state is currently trying to implement the federal stimulus package, which would add $600 a week to unemployment benefits, and provide relief for some who don’t normally qualify for benefits.

Gov. Tony Evers said he would like to waive the one-week waiting period to receive benefits in Wisconsin. Republican leaders in the state legislature said they are open to that plan, but it is currently being held up in the political battle over a broad state relief plan.

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