Relief, huh?

“I am no Superman
I have no reasons for you
I am no hero
Oh, that’s for sure
But I do know one thing
Is where you are is where I belong
I do know where you go
That’s where I want to be”
~ Dave Matthews

Lying in bed and wondering where the next dollar to pay the rent, mortgage, gas, tuition, or any other expense is a reality for many Wisconsinite’s. The chorus of “Where are you going” by the Dave Matthews Band was stuck in my head over the weekend as I pondered how we, 10 month later, are still barely treading water. The relief needed is no superman, it isn’t our hero, but it is the one thing that is being kept from the hands of those in need. The relief is just out of reach. It wants to be useful . . . its purpose is to belong and to relieve.

I spent over 30 years working with The Salvation Army organization and had many wonderful opportunities to witness the story of relief from start to finish. So, when I speak of it as a living breathing thing, it is intentional. Quite literally, relief takes hold like the virus that beckons its very need in the first place. The relief hops from host to host until it reaches its final destination, right where it belongs and right where it wants to be. But here is the problem, our relief is stuck.

It isn’t being held for penalty, or held and gaining strength, its just simply on the bench and screaming “put me in coach”! The DWD in Wisconsin continues to ignore the bigger picture and address issues that were never really issues. They shuffle claims from bucket to bucket so they can say progress is being made. They’ve met a huge goal, don’t ya know!?!?! The backlog is clear! Ya, right. If you are one of the idiots that has given the newly minted and under qualified DWD Secretary a pat on the back, you can move on and find another source because this truth may be too harsh for you. BUT, if you can handle it, and are ready to see the light, stick around.

That glorious backlog clearing was nothing more than a transfer of claims that “hadn’t been viewed” to the “needs review/adjudication” pile. Furthermore, in their efforts to process more claims, at a quicker pace, they partnered with google and more claimants have had their claims deposited in fraudulent bank accounts than before. Then we can discuss the shuffling of claims to the denial pile and off to the months long appeals process for simple issues of SSDI, requalifying after quitting a job, etc. Confused? You should be. These are issues that ANY supervisor can review and correct.

Moving on to the wonderful news that Congress finally passed a half-assed form of Covid aide to get programs back on track for a while. Again, we see the lackluster efforts from the DWD shining through and the reports continue to come out that there will be multiple weeks of delay until these programs can be live. Interesting, isn’t? Because back in July they kept saying that as long as the bills were passed prior to the ending of the existing bills there would not be a delay. The president signed the bills prior to the end of the prior bills and yet . . . delays are existing and no one is getting benefits again.

So, the journey of your relief dollars? Currently they are in DC. DC doesn’t want them . . . they have worked to get them to you. Why is there no push on state likes Wisconsin who take so long to get these programs implemented. Wisconsin runs the SAME EXACT system and technology as 11 other states. That excuse is seriously pissing me off. Every time the media waste ink on and air time on it my rage level increases exponentially. But until someone finally decides to get their head out of their ass and hold the inner department heads of the UI Division responsible for this mess and bring in a ground level team to fix it, I’ll just sing this chorus as a lullaby to our relief dollars and hope they find their way to each of us before we hit month twelve.

Audits and Reality

The audits are starting to trickle in. This pandemic really started in late December 2019 and exploded in March of 2020. The financial decimation began to take effect in late May of 2020 when it became apparent that the Wisconsin DWD division of Unemployment Insurance (UI) had no idea how to actually do their jobs and didn’t care to figure it out. It is now December 16, 2020 and the truth is abundantly clear . . . we were right all along. I love being right, it gives me warm and fuzzy feelings inside. If you haven’t fully caught on, yes, this is me being a jerk and gloating.

Let’s be real. Back in June 2020, heck even in May, a small group of us sounded the alarm that the inner core of management of the UI division was corrupt. Initially, yes, we looked at the lame duck laws and the Republicans. But the more I read the laws, the more I realized they aren’t that bad. Those laws protect everyone and every dollar. The laws written for the UI division, aside from the law ruling that a claimant can not receive both SSDI and UI at the same time, are comparable across the country. They stop the unnecessary bleeding of the UI Trust Fund and incorporate safeguards and programs that guide people into the workforce when they are struggling, but also supports them throughout the process.

After clearing that hurdle, our focus went solely to management and decision makers. We read emails, we followed the patterns of discussions, we tore apart interviews, we watched the “performance” by then Sec. Frostman on May 27th before the Senate Regulatory Committee. We devoured every piece of information we could get to support our suspicions that the DWD UI division was being run by pure evil. There was no greed factor or money motive. It was and is a culture designed to deny, defend, and delay the process and procedure of claims for the simple reason of keeping stats. The unemployment rate needs to be low, we need to show improvement. How do we control that? By denying unemployment claims!

Wait, how do you control statistical data when a pandemic hits? The entire UI division has been trained on how to do their jobs in a manner of controlling stats with one singular goal. You can’t keep a low unemployment rate when everyone is flocking to the unemployment line, can you? Now, a sudden shift in the needs of the states constituents, affects everything the UI division does. But are they retrained? No. Are they briefed? No. They are told business as usual. And that is how we are where we are today. Yes, progress has been made, but at what cost? Thousands of claimants waiting for appeals because they selected the wrong box? Because they were wrongfully denied?

Sure there is a temporary Secretary that has vowed to clear the backlog by the end of the year. But how many of those cleared claims are being denied? How many are being pushed through to appeal? What is she doing for the appeal process? What is happening with the thousands of lives that have been severely affected by this selfish and inhumane treatment? WHO is going to take accountability and apologize?

Remember that question about keeping a low unemployment rate while everyone is flocking to the unemployment line? Well, where are we right now? In the thick of it . . . with quite a low unemployment rate because they have managed to manipulate the numbers by denying and sending thousands into appeal. Thwarting the needs of the people and instead, we are seeing the residuals of the old UI regime’s way of “helping” the people of Wisconsin.

The End is Near

When applying for unemployment you don’t really think about the end, you focus on the beginning of the benefits. The wait is for the deposit. Here in Wisconsin, that wait could last anywhere from one day to nine months or longer. But, as we begin the month of December, we approach the end of yet another milestone. While the pandemic escalates and the medical community struggles to keep up, the economic climate of unemployment support plummeted months ago with no signs of revival.

On December 26, both the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) come to a close. The unfortunate truth is that some claimants have exhausted their benefits as the month begins, but for others, those who held on to jobs until the second half of the year, they still have more than 10 weeks of benefits remaining. However, due to no action from Congress, these programs sing their swan song on the 26th regardless of benefits that my be remaining in eligibility.

So, where do we go from here? Many predicted, including myself, that the bottom would drop out when the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program ended in July that provided an additional $600 to claimants each week. Claimants were smart and either saved money in preparation, or had already sought employment realizing that dependability on our governmental programs was not an option.

Things are different now. There are still 500,000 claims unprocessed. There are thousands more claimants falsely denied and thrown into a months long appeals process. Our economy is a disaster, our leaders are self serving, and no one seems to care that the single life line for millions of individuals for the last nine months is coming to an end. No matter your benefit amount. Not having that additional income will have a massive effect on households. Who is going to do something?

We have a voice and we must use it.

These programs ending with the only hopes of follow up being after the inauguration and ONLY if Democrats control the Senate. It infuriates me that so many peoples financial stability during this pandemic is being left to political chance. It embarrasses me to realize that everyone is watching it and the people that could really help raise awareness turn a blind eye because they aren’t affected. That, my friends, is the purest definition of “privilege”.

This is not about going out and getting a job.

This is not about lazy americans.

This is about industries that do not have jobs. Skilled workers, parents who have to be home with children, individuals sidelined due to covid, and so many other situations that I don’t even know about.

This IS about a system designed for this moment and a body of elected jackasses that refuse to do anything for the people they serve.

Distracted by a Wedding and the Election

I’m not sure if I am one of few or one of many, but my life stopped for the last three months as I became absolutely consumed by my wedding and then the election. Yes, unemployment existed during both of those events and I stand, or sit, here ashamed for leaving you hanging. However, I will say, what did we actually miss? There were some false starts and a few whimpers of progress. But, as has been the pathetic story for the past almost four months, nothing seems to happen at all.

I’ve grown frustrated with this entire scene. Many of us have. Heck, even the media grew silent on the issue of Wisconsin’s sham of an unemployment system. Governor Evers FINALLY decided to appear as though he was paying attention and asked Secretary Caleb Frostman to resign. That made many happy, but it was a sad day. Secretary Frostman, while he certainly didn’t fix the issues, was not and is not the problem. The problem goes much deeper. In lieu of finding the problem, Evers then moved the deputy from the DOC over to head the DWD. Yeah . . . you read that right, the DOC! Yep, this is the one time when Frostman was actually the better prepared candidate for the job.

Meanwhile at the DWD the actual department that IS the problem has no staff changes. Well, until the very quiet resignation/retirement rumor of Amy Banicki. Interesting, no? Has anything improved? Nope. Any sweeping changes? Nope. The only thing that has changed is there is a remarkable amount of crap coming out of the DWD in terms of weekly data releases. The transformed data releases now tell nothing but overall totals of claims processed, a rough estimate of claims “in” process, and how many calls they received for the week. NOBODY CARES HOW MANY CALLS YOU RECEIVED!

Okay, so maybe some things have happened while I’ve been away. But I’m back. I’m irritated and I’m ready to roll. New podcast episodes are coming and I’m looking forward to some new guests that will have different opinions and maybe even some good debates going on. It is November 23, 2020. There are 500,000 claims that are still waiting to be processed. Since the end of July the denials rates have skyrocketed, SSDI people have been approved for PUA only to be put through the ringer of denials that even I can’t decipher, and claimants that applied in March still haven’t been processed!

We don’t get quiet until every claim from this pandemic has been processed and processed the right way. That means appeals and payments. NO PAYMENT, NO PEACE!

Hello? Is This Mic On? Is Anyone Listening?

It has happened, on occasion, that I overreact and then need to walk back my rage or indignation. Throughout the pandemic, it has not happened often. That is a sad reality. Think about it, I see someone getting screwed by the UI division or catch a press conference that infers significant consequences on millions of people. My knee jerk reaction is to be pissed and head to my studio. I should be wrong more often, but I’m not! That, in itself, is upsetting.

Together with the Wisconsin Unemployment ACTION Group there is a protest being planned for Labor Day. What better moment than a day to celebrate laborers to stand up and be heard about the injustices and oppression heaped on the very laborers we are celebrating. People do not wish to be on unemployment. Its an absolute nightmare. People have no desire to sign up for emergency food stamps. Its humiliating. Yet . . . here we are.

A recent situation that has seriously affected my ability to remain calm came to my attention in the wee hours of the morning today. SSDI recipients have been treated like a population of individuals unworthy of the governments scraps, let alone the benefits they are rightly entitled to. After four months of fighting for their rights, vindication came in the form of a letter from the Department of Labor. Once and for all, the argument was settled. In Wisconsin, while SSDI recipients are not eligible for Reg UI due to state law (108.04 (12)(f), they are entitled to federal pandemic benefits.

The good news doesn’t end there. Not only are recipients eligible, but because Wisconsin doesn’t even recognize them as a working class, the state is forbidden from adjusting their benefits due to the amount of SSDI income they receive. So, to be completely clear, SSDI recipients are eligible for min. of $163/week with the PUA program. This amount can not be adjusted down, and regardless of income earned and if it would qualify or be a lesser amount under state UI statues and standards, the Wisconsin UI department does not have the legal right to adjust this minimum earning.

Not only is the UI division continuing to deny SSDI recipients and put them through pointless appeal hearings, they are now attempting to process them through the Reg UI system, which is a violation of state law and why these folks weren’t paid in the first place back in March! When recipients inquire, they are told that programing the system to pay SSDI requires manual computations of benefits and other steps that are taking an extended period of time. Uh . . . what computations?

This is NOT right and we must stand with these people until these wrongs are made right. As I continue my research, listen in this week as I share some crazy stories from claimants across the state and also welcome a few to come and share their stores themselves!

Pandemic claims are not going away

Great point and essential as the news of the Senate taking a three day siesta sans FPUC extension becomes reality.

Wisconsin Unemployment

When the pandemic started, unemployment claims skyrocketed to numbers never seen before.

Others have focused on the total number of claims being filed. What may be more useful is comparing this increase in claims to what occurred when there was no pandemic — aka last year — and how the claims data has varied over time.

So, what makes sense, then, is a ratio of new claims being filed for the equivalent week last year when there was no pandemic. This ratio would indicate both how these new claims compare to when there was no pandemic AND how the unemployment picture is changing over time.

Unfortunately, this picture is unsettling to say the least.

Ratio of 2020 claims to 2019 claims

Note: Here is the data for this chart:

w/e 2020 Week Ratio 03/14/20 11 1.02 03/21/20 12 13.29 03/28/20 13 20.51 04/04/20 14 19.95 04/11/20 15 14.21 04/18/20 16 12.12 04/25/20 17 10.64 05/02/20 18 9.47…

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Doing The Most Good

I’m sick of it. I’m sick of a Governor who acts without consultation, throws money around without full comprehension of other areas that are more in need, and I’m overly sick of an administration that has its focus on everything but the people of Wisconsin. In the last three months Gov. Evers has allocated CARES Act monies to a number of entities without so much as a warning to legislative bodies. He has created programs and funds out of the blue. However, when approached about sensible and logical ways to use those dollars, he goes silent. I’m sick of it. Maybe now, with a little accountability, things will change. Or will they? Does anyone really care about the PEOPLE of Wisconsin? Or is this just a power play? CARES Act monies must be spent, not just allocated by the deadline. So Evers can reallocate them to other uses. As of July 23, 2020, only 5.6% of the funds given to Wisconsin have been spent within the state. 5.6% of 1.5B! And people are living in their cars, waiting in lines at food pantries, begging landlords to not file evictions, and selling their belongings to simply survive.

It isn’t right. These documents show the letter written to Gov. Evers demanding information regarding where monies have been allocated and where they are intended to be spent.

I’m HOT!

I’m not sure there is a better way to describe how pissed off I am today. It started a few weeks ago and its just been simmering. As I was doing my weekly claim a few weeks ago one of the first questions is “During the week, did you attend school anytime between the hours of 7am and 5pm, Monday through Friday?” That question flat out sends me through the roof.

First of all, you can go to school 24/7. You can also work 24/7. If eligibility were based, as it appears to be, using these parameters, over a third of individuals filing for UI would be disqualified or placed into adjudication. Surprise, surprise! That is exactly what is happening. For a while I tried to make sure people knew this question was there and that if they were online students to make sure to answer no. Heck, even if you are an in person student or a virtual student with scheduled class times during those hours, still answer NO.

The DWD does not and can not dictate to you when you go to work and when you go to school. That is a violation of everything near and dear to being an individual in this so called free country. Jesus, this makes me so freaking mad. To be even more clear, I’m not telling you to be dishonest, but I am telling you to think clearly about the laws of WI and about what it means to be able and available, which is the standard for eligibility for benefits.

If you are a student and you are still able and available to work up to 32 hours a week at a job if offered, then you are eligible for benefits. Listen to the latest podcast to hear my ranting and raving on this topic if you want more!

Denying UI to the disabled makes no sense

Great comments about this ridiculous law that we should all be embarrassed about.

Wisconsin Unemployment

A time out for some politics.

Last week, the Dems introduced a bunch of proposals for peeling back some of the changes Walker had had made to unemployment, including an end to the ban on unemployment benefits for SSDI recipients.

As noted here previously, around 158,000 SSDI recipients work in some way in Wisconsin. As a result, one out of every twenty workers in this state is a disabled worker receiving SSDI benefits. This statement is not a mistake. One out of every twenty workers in this state is receiving SSDI benefits.

So, this ban is sucking money out of the recovery for one out of every twenty workers in this state. No wonder the UI trust fund did so well under Walker. One out of twenty workers is barred from ever collecting unemployment benefits no matter what happens to them.

And, this ban completely undercuts the…

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Here We Go Again

Quite often, in this unemployment debacle, I have felt that we are on our own. Not just on our own, but lacking the tools, knowledge, and power to fight a war we shouldn’t really have to fight. Am I the only one feeling that way? Today, I’ve been kind of lounging around with my five-year-old granddaughter, playing kitchen and market. I certainly wish my grown-up world were as carefree as hers.

Within the past two weeks we have heard from both Republicans and Democrats involving their solutions to the growing number of claims that are being backlogged within the Unemployment Division of the Wisconsin DWD. If you haven’t already, please take some time and listen to the podcast episodes posted on this website. They really are full of information that is intended to help and lead listeners to action.

So, what do we do? We must move. We can not return to where we have been. For months we waited for someone to speak. No one, other than through press releases full of lies from the DWD would utter a word. Excuse me, there was plenty of blame to go around. So much blame to go around and so much animosity that at times we might have actually preferred the silence. But in the end, it still left us wanting answers and feeling the frustration of oppression.

It is important to note that this situation is not the only crisis our state is enduring right now. This is not the only stressor. As I’ve made my way around the state to meet different claimants and to speak with politicians, I’ve learned and witnessed more than I dreamed. Above all, I’ve been reminded that this is bigger than any one person or any one claim. This is bigger than this one moment or issue. This is systematic and we must acknowledge that in our overall quest for ultimate change.

In our journey to #cleartheclaims we must stand firm and demand that our elected and appointed officials #stopthegames and lead with integrity and the same mindfulness of their constituents they boasted about on the campaign trail. Every term has a last day and we will be there. Every seat has a new ass to fill it if the old ass doesn’t want to play ball with the REAL fans that put it there. Stop pandering for money and big supporters and get back to the people that are at the ballot box. Those are the ones that are being let down everyday. We are the ones that will be ending your terms, if you don’t.

I’m waking up. I’m not laying around anymore. I realize I was getting used to the silence again. But I caught myself. So, this is my bullhorn. This is me sounding the alarm. I am not going away. I will not go back to silence. My action, OUR action, will be to prevent your peace. If you are one of the individuals standing in the way of #clearingtheclaims, than this is your warning. We will not back down. We will continue to get louder. There is no time for silence.

Sign the bills. Send the aide. Cut the checks. Do what is right. And most of all, #CLEARTHECLAIMS and #STOPTHEGAMES.