As the unemployment rate skyrocketed due to COVID-19 pandemic, the state of Wisconsin quickly fell behind in processing new claims. Excessively high call volume and technical glitches plagued Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance programs early on. The inability to speak with an agent, coupled with slow processing times and delays in retroactive payments frustrated claimants. Over time, Wisconsin has increased the number of claims processed and unemployment funds paid out.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is the state agency tasked with a variety of job-related functions including workforce development, job services, employee training, processing unemployment insurance claims, and protecting and enforcing worker’s rights. The Unemployment Insurance Division of the DWD over oversees the unemployment insurance program for the state. See further details below on the newly enhanced benefits available now and how to file a claim.
Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) Program – Payments Now Being Disbursed
Wisconsin has been approved by FEMA for the $300 weekly payment under the LWA program, which provides supplemental payments to eligible unemployment benefits claimants who have been unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work due to disruptions caused by COVID-19. A maximum of 6 weeks of funding was approved by FEMA for all states. DWD took much longer than other states to update systems for processing LWA payments, but unemployed workers should start seeing LWA funds around October 22nd 2020. Processing started earlier in the week, but payments took a few days to hit bank accounts and UI debit cards. LWA benefits will be paid retroactively for those determined eligible according to the following schedule:
Payments from the LWA program will be made retroactively for a maximum of six weeks covering the weeks ending August 1, August 8, August 15, August 22, August 29, and September 5, 2020. Benefits will be back paid in one lump sum ($1800) or via multiple payments depending on the amount the recipient is eligible for. DWD estimates up to 220,000 claimants may be eligible for LWA.
While there is no new application for LWA, claimants must self-certify that they were unemployed or partially unemployed due to disruptions caused by COVID-19. (Those who qualify for PUA are presumed to have met the self-certification requirements.). Claimants eligible for LWA will automatically receive LWA funds in addition to their weekly benefit amount. If you self certify and incorrectly answer the question around being impacted by COVID, you need to contact a claims specialist at (414) 435-7069 or toll-free (844) 910-3661 and ask them to change your answer.
The new LWA payment would be in addition to Regular Unemployment Insurance (UI), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) payments currently available to unemployed Wisconsin workers. The state’s maximum weekly unemployment benefit is $370. When combined with the new program, the maximum possible benefit in Wisconsin will be $670 per week, before tax withholding, and will be retroactive to week ending August 1, 2020. See more details on the states LWA page.
The new Lost Wages program however does cut the federal benefit ($600 FPUC) in half since the state cannot afford to boost the benefit by the additional $100 state contribution requested by Trump.
COVID 19 Enhanced Benefits in Wisconsin
Under the CARES act, there are three types of federal unemployment assistance available:
• Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): expands eligibility for individuals who are typically ineligible for Unemployment benefits, including independent contractors, self-employed, and “gig” workers. Recipients may receive up to 39 weeks of benefits under this program.
• Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC): adds $600 per week in addition to the regular benefits that recipients of Unemployment Insurance are entitled to receive; benefit is retroactive to the week ending April 4, 2020 and the program expired on July 25, 2020. This program has now expired, unless Congress extends it further.
In connection with the executive order from President Trump extending the time period for the program at a reduced $400 per week rate, the “DWD is awaiting clarification and guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor regarding how states may implement President Trump’s executive order restoring additional UI payments for lost wages. The new payments are not available at this time.
• Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): provides an additional 13 weeks of Unemployment benefits to recipients of regular unemployment insurance.
The continued rise in the state’s unemployment rate caused Wisconsin to trigger 13 weeks of extended state benefits to those who have exhausted all other state and federal unemployment aid without returning to work permanently. The Extended Benefit (EB) program was effective May 17, 2020 and applies to unemployed individuals who have exhausted regular unemployment and PEUC benefits, whichever is later.
Web and/or phone issues with accessing the Wisconsin Unemployment system
Unemployment claims have drastically increased due to the coronavirus. The DWD reported receiving over 1.5 million calls during the week of March 22, 2020. Due to the lack of personnel and record levels of demand, the DWD strongly encourages filing claims online.
Existing Claimants: Claimants receiving unemployment benefits due to the coronavirus emergency must continue to certify weekly to receive the additional FPUC $600/week benefit. The additional $600/week compensation is retroactive to the week ending April 4 and ends on July 25. FPUC payments are automatically added to your weekly benefit payment. The DWD began issuing FPUC payments on April 26. Upon exhausting regular and PEUC benefits, eligible claimants must apply for the EB program. Existing claimants should track their current balance online to determine when to apply for EB.
In July, the DWD reported that they had increased their workforce by over 1,000 employees. While this has expanded their ability to increase call center hours, answer incoming calls, and process more claims, 13% of the approximate 4 million weekly claims filed since March 15 were still undergoing eligibility analysis.
Filing a Claim
If you are filing a claim for the first time, you can create a new account here on the DWD website. Once you have created a username and password, log on to access online benefit services to complete your application. Existing claimants can log in here to file their weekly claim. You can check the status of your claim here.
To receive unemployment benefits, you must certify for benefits for each week that you are claiming. You must certify within 14 days (about 2 weeks) of the end of the calendar week that you are claiming. The calendar week runs from Sunday to Saturday. You may only file a claim after the work week has ended. If you do not certify for benefits within 14 days (about 2 weeks) of the end of the calendar week, you will not be able to file online and must reactive your claim. When certifying your claim, you must do this online and be physically located in the United States, a US Territory, or Canada. Failure to certify your benefits properly may result in the denial of your unemployment benefit.
If there is a problem with your claim that must be resolved before benefits can be paid, or if you have been denied benefits and are appealing the determination, you must still certify for and claim your benefits. If it is determined that you are eligible or if you win your appeal, you will be paid these benefits retroactively. However, if you have not claimed benefits and you win your appeal, you will not be paid for these weeks.
If you are unable to file your unemployment claim online or need help with online services, call (414) 435-7069 or toll-free (844) 910-3661 (Monday – Friday 6:15 AM – 5:30; Saturday 7:00 AM – 1:30 PM
To apply online for Unemployment Insurance benefits (recommended), you must have:
- Worked in Wisconsin in the last 18 months
- Worked for a covered employer that paid in UI
You can also apply by phone.
If applying online, you will need the following information:
- Valid email address or cellphone number
- Social Security Number
- Wisconsin driver’s license or identification number.
- Work history for the last 18 months including;
- Employers’ business names
- Employers’ addresses with zip codes
- Employers’ phone number
- First and last date that you worked for each employer
- Reason you are no longer working for each employer
- Your current mailing address. Be sure to notify the post office of any address changes so that you do not miss vital information about your claim.
I filed my unemployment claim several weeks ago. Will I receive back pay once my claim is approved?
The DWD is still working through unemployment claims filed under the programs enacted by the Cares Act. The large volume of claims has slowed down the approval process. The FPUC $600 per week additional benefit expired during the week of July 25. If you have filed an unemployment claim prior to that date and are still awaiting a response regarding your eligibility for unemployment, you will receive any back weeks of FPUC even if the decision is not made until after the July 25 expiration date. Claimants who are not eligible for regular unemployment may be able to collect benefits under the PUA program. Before you can file weekly claims under the PUA, your eligibility must be determined. If you are eligible to participate, the DWD will instruct you as to how to file weekly claims. If you were eligible for PUA benefits for weeks that have already passed, you will be able to file weekly claims and recover back pay due to you.
Can I collect unemployment benefits if my employer cut my hours?
According to the DWD, individuals who are partially unemployed due to a reduction of hours may be able to collect unemployment benefits. Recipients must work less than a combined 32 hours per week for all employers and earn less than $500 may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.
See additional FAQ from the Wisconsin Division of Workforce Development about unemployment benefits.
This article was updated on October 22