If there's one thing I can't stand in this world, it's dishonesty and duplicity. And the WisGOPs are hitting new levels of dishonesty when it comes to Wisconsinites that are struggling to get the unemployment checks they are entitled to.
Let me start with Joint Finance Co-Chair John Nygren, who has spent much of this week shedding crocodile tears for laid-off Wisconsinites and the problems some are having in obtaining their benefits.
If only the Co-Chair of Wisconsin's Finance Committee could do something to better allocate resources to deal with this. If only....
But let's talk about that 2014 audit that Nygren references. I'll go to the site of Madison-based labor and employment attorney Victor Forberger, as he had this recap
of the LAB audit relating to the problems referenced in the audit.
The report shows that from late-November 2013 through mid-January 2014 that more than 70% and 80% of all calls to the Department [of Workforce Development]'s initial claims phone line were blocked (see p.18 of the report). Furthermore, 50% to almost 90% of all calls to the inquiry phone line were blocked from July 2013 through mid-January 2014 (see p.19 of the report). That is a staggering collapse of the Department’s phone system.
At the January 2014 meeting of the Advisory Council, the Department explained this phone problem as a seasonal blip that was slightly more than expected because folks preferred the telephone to the on-line system:
Ms. Knutson asked the Council if there was any other business the Council would like to address. Mr. Gustafson referenced a recent story that aired in the Green Bay area related to the Unemployment Insurance claim telephone line experiencing back-ups. He asked how the department is handling this issue. Division Administrator Robert Rodriguez stated that currently the department is experiencing its typical peak season but due to a multitude of things this season has been more difficult. Mr. Rodriguez stated that the department received 220,000 calls last week. Mr. Rodriguez explained that the department cannot dictate how claimants use the system although online is recommended. It is, of course, the claimant’s choice but the department would like everyone who is able to use the online filing portal to use it, but understands that some people have limitations.
Mr. Gustafson stated there was not any real issue causing the increase in telephone calls such as something similar to the most recent recession, and he was worried that the story was misleading and painted the department in a bad light and it implied a much larger problem. Mr. Rodriguez stated that the department is scaled well for 46 or 47 weeks to meet demand but we have responded to the most recent influx by adding staff, which the department typically does during the seasonal peak, and has authorized additional overtime. Mr. Gustafson stated that the story did not ask the question how the department was reacting to the issue. Mr. Rodriguez stated that an individual having to call the department 20-40 times is not acceptable but reiterated that current numbers show that the issue is going away.
That LAB audit mentioned DWD was planning to put in a new online system to allow initial claims to be filed via the Internet and speed the process along. In a follow-up note in March 2015,
the DWD said that no calls were being blocked, and claimed all they had to do was to reallocate the number of employees to handle calls at peak times.
In the fall of 2014, the Division instituted a rapid-response system in which division personnel, who do not work in the call centers but have robust knowledge of the UI claims system, could be called upon nearly instantaneously to answer calls during peak times.As noted in the audit report, nearly 200 non-call center employees were incorporated in this effort (the regular compliment of call center claims specialists is approximately 110). Thus, the Department roughly tripled its capacity without any additional hiring. When the call queues begin to fill, the system activates the appropriate number of additional employees needed to handle the demand.
2015 is an important year for this story. In April 2015, there were an average of less than 8,400 initial unemployment claims filed each week. In 2020, that number was between 6 and 12 time that amount.
At the same time, claimants and workers at the Wisconsin DWD had to do a lot more work for each claim. In 2015, Scott Walker had just been re-elected to a full 4-year term and the GOP State Legislature had sizable majorities in both the Assembly and Senate. So the pressure was now off to have the WisGOPs care about the needs of the public, and instead it was time to get "tough on welfare."
If you go into the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's rundown of the 2015-17 budget,
there is a good list of the extra UI barriers put in place, which were conveniently timed to dog-whistle to GOP primary voters ahead of Walker's disastrous run for president in 2015. The first is the infamous plan to "pee in a cup for your benefits".
Require DWD to establish a program to test claimants who apply for regular unemployment benefits for the presence of controlled substances and, under the program, do all of the following: (a) establish a process to test claimants for the presence of controlled substances and adhere to any applicable federal requirements regarding drug testing, (b) create and provide a substance abuse treatment program for claimants who misuse controlled substances and specify criteria that a claimant must satisfy in order to be considered in full compliance with the program, (c) create a screening process for determining whether a claimant should be required to submit to a test for the presence of controlled substances, (d) create and GPR $500,000 conduct job skills assessments for claimants who misuse controlled substances and specify criteria that a claimant must satisfy in order to be considered in full compliance with the requirements of the assessment, and (e) promulgate rules identifying occupations for which drug testing is regularly conducted in the state.
When a claimant applies for regular benefits, require DWD to: (a) determine whether the claimant is an individual for whom suitable work is only available in an occupation that regularly conducts drug testing (an occupation identified by the federal Secretary of Labor) and, if so, conduct a screening on the claimant; (b) determine whether the claimant is an individual for whom suitable work is only available in an occupation for which drug testing is regularly conducted in this state (an occupation identified by DWD by rule) and, if so, conduct a screening on the claimant if a screening is not already required; and (c) if a screening indicates that the claimant should be required to submit to a test for the presence of controlled substances, require that the claimant submit to such a test.
Another bill would charge people who were found to have committed some type of fraud to pay back those benefits and be fined 40% on top of it (seems like quite a price, given that those people are UNEMPLOYED).
Under current law, a 15 percent surcharge (credited to the UI balancing account) is imposed on certain fraudulent overpayments made to claimants. This payment is in addition to a reduction of future benefits for acts of fraud by two, four, and eight times the weekly benefit rate, escalating with repeat offenses. A UI claimant commits fraud by providing false or inaccurate information to the Department when filing a claim for UI benefits in an effort to obtain monies to which they are not entitled. This bill would increase the penalty described above to a 40 percent surcharge on the benefit payments erroneously paid to the claimant beginning on the day after publication of the budget act.
Then Nygren and the rest of the WisGOP Legislature took it a step further, putting that extra 25% toward "program integrity" instead of upgrading technology or adding workers to DWD's call centers. On top of that move, the WisGOPs moved another $870,000 of federal money to program integrity over staffing and technology investments.
The WisGOPs also signed off on a Walker provision that would allow for DWD to figure out if a laid-off worker had declined "suitable work" after a 6-week period of unemployment. This requires staff to deal with this extra oversight, and also can be used to shove workers back into dangerous and/or underpaid jobs that they otherwise would never take, while passing up their chances of getting better work.
And in the 2017-19 budget,
the Walker Administration and WisGOP decided not to replace $11 million of federal funding that was cut for unemployment administration, and reduced some jobs in the process. However, they thought this
was a worthwhile use of DWD time and money.
Require DWD to collaborate with other agencies to prepare a report on the population overlap of families that receive public benefits and children who are absent from school for ten percent or more of the school year. The other agencies involved in the report would include the Departments of Children and Families, Health Services, and Public Instruction, and any other relevant programs or agencies the departments identify as appropriate. Require the report to be submitted on or before December 30, 2018, to the Governor and appropriate standing committees of the Legislature.
These extra barriers were done with a loss of positions, despite more paperwork and follow-up to digest. Which is what makes this statement by Assembly Number 2 Jim Steineke all the more shameless.
Oh, so Shrimpy now thinks we should just hand out the money and then try to take it back at a later point if it is no longer legit? That's sure different from what he was saying 5 years ago, when he and other WisGOPs in the State Legislature put on all of this red tape, because "those people" might be cheating.
The GOP barriers certainly seem to be a reason behind why its been so slow for some Wisconsinites to get their benefits. Just this week, there was an article in the Bradley-Foundation-linked Center Square site
that mentioned the DWD's success in catching suspected fraudsters.
The state's Department of Workforce Development said it has caught just over 500 fraudulent claims.
"DWD has identified 342 unsuccessful attempts to access the system with a stolen Social Security number as of May 15," the agency said in a statement.
DWD also announced that it "flagged 171 claims as potential fraud with payments estimated to be around $26,000."
Wisconsin has paid out more than $1.1 billion in claims since mid-March, and has handled almost 1.5 million claims.
So I guess the
Center Square spin is that the overworked DWD....isn't doing enough to fight fraud? And that they should waste more
time doing it? They might want to tell Jim Steineke and John Nygren that.
But hey, if the WisGOPs want our unemployment system to become more efficient and concentrate on serving laid-off workers instead of using a lot of time and effort to block them from getting their benefits, I have one thing to say.
Of course there should be a demand for accountability when people are losing jobs at a record rate and not getting their benefits. And it is something that demands urgent action from both the Governor's Office and the Legislature.
But you broke it, WisGOP. You don't get to wash your hands of the problems that follow. You don't get to stamp your feet in the corner without coming up with any kind of solution to these problems (and no, inviting guests to whine next week at a dog-and-pony show presided by Steven nASS
does not qualify as "action", guys).
That is PATHETIC stuff. But fitting of a party that cares more about scoring points in the AM radio Bubble than in doing anything that might make things better for Wisconsinites.