MILWAUKEE — The majority of people who filed for unemployment in Wisconsin last year found themselves waiting on an adjudicator to determine their eligibility, and the way the state trained those adjudicators may have led to additional delays.
Adjudicators are investigators for the Department of Workforce Development, trained to spot if someone is ineligible to receive benefits from the state, due to one of Wisconsin's several laws about the issue.
The department says it's a manual process, slowed down by the 1970s-era unemployment technology they are using.
The state currently has 551 adjudicators on staff, a slight decrease from the peak of the unemployment crisis, when the department had about 560 adjudicators.
The DWD contracted 200 adjudicators last year for $7.4 million dollars. The department needed them to adjudicate 77 percent of all unemployment claims, according to an audit. Some people waited more than 75 days for a determination.
The head of the DWD Amy Pechacek told lawmakers earlier this year that in an effort to train new adjudicators as quickly as possible, they trained them to handle unemployment problems, instead of individual claims.
"The reason it is set up that way is because there are so many different issue families, which can cause a claimant to go into hold status," she said.
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"Each of those issues is very complex and has a long runway of training for somebody to learn about," Pechacek also said.
Many unemployed viewers told the I-Team multiple adjudicators worked on their claims and said it led to delays in their case. Some felt it also led to unfair determinations.
Former Greenfield resident Tyler Green said last year he was working with an adjudicator to get them the information they needed to approve his claim. But after waiting months, another adjudicator decided he was not eligible.
"I asked her, I said, 'So why was my case closed?'" Lang said. "She said the state of Wisconsin decided to remove her as the adjudicator for the case and put a new adjudicator on the case."
Lang is appealing his case, along with thousands of other residents who were denied. The DWD said last month 2,070 cases were scheduled, and another 16,614 were waiting for a hearing date.
Victor Forberger is an attorney representing people who believe they've been unfairly denied.
He says problems can arise when you adjudicate problems, and not people.
"You need people to kind of see-through issues and problems and look at the big picture," Forberger said. "And that's how you kind of find efficiencies. If you just subdivide it out, you just create more inefficiencies."
The DWD states it was to help get people on board as quickly as possible.
"Ideally I certainly agree with you that it makes much more sense to keep one case with one person so that I can see it you know from beginning to end but sort of in this extraordinary time and the level of volume that we have we really need to train up people as quickly as possible and get them working so that we can get through these claims," Pechacek said.
She said the outdated system slows them down in several aspects of their job.
Forberger points out that the state's complicated unemployment laws can also lead to complications. With so many ways to deem a claimant ineligible, it means additional issues to adjudicate.
It's something that would have been difficult to change pre-pandemic.
"It's difficult now, but the imperative to get that addressed is even more important now and I'm just I'm not seeing that yet and that's kind of why things seem to be going so poorly in the state," he said.