Thousands of Wisconsinites are depending on unemployment insurance to help them weather a season of uncertainty in the job market, thanks to layoffs and closings brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But thousands of other Wisconsinites don’t qualify for unemployment. The federal government set up the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to help get relief to those not getting regular unemployment benefits.
Here’s what you need to know about the program, and whether you qualify.
What is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?
It’s a program that applies to self-employed workers, independent contractors, people with limited work history and others, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the government agency in charge of unemployment.
The program provides up to 39 weeks of benefits to those who fall within the guidelines, paying from $163 to a maximum of $370 a week.
How many people have applied for PUA?
According to department data, the state has received 91,077 applications and processed about 40,573 since the program opened at the end of April.
In the first week alone, the department said it received 40,000 applications.
Is there a backlog of claims for PUA?
Like normal unemployment, there is a backlog of claims that adjudicators in the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development are working to get through. But unlike normal unemployment, which runs on a mostly automated system with a subset of claims requiring adjudications, all PUA claims must be addressed by adjudicators, slowing down the process.
The department said that the rate of cases adjudicated for the PUA program should start to speed up now. In the months since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the staff at the department has nearly tripled, and as employees have worked longer, they’ve gained more experience. Last week, adjudicators were able to address more than 10,000 claims, and the department hopes that number will continue to grow in coming weeks.
Another reason it is taking so long for some claims is that the person must first be disqualified for regular unemployment. And if that regular unemployment claim is sent to adjudication, it adds more time to the process.
Are PUA payments retroactive?
Although the PUA system was the last one to launch in late April, applicants can file claims for as far back as Feb. 8, according to the department website. The last payable week will be the week ending Dec. 26, 2020.
Why did it take so long to set up the PUA system?
Ben Jedd, the communications director for the department, said that the PUA system took longer to activate online because all of the new federal programs had to be coded into the system one at a time, and PUA was the final program to launch online.
I think I qualify for PUA. Where do I apply?
Visit the PUA page on the department website to apply: www.dwd.wisconsin.gov.
I have questions. Who do I call?
There is a separate hotline at (608) 318-7100 for those in need of assistance with their application, or those with questions. But note, the people answering phones cannot help you move your claim along faster or connect you with your case adjudicator. They only have access to the information about your filing that you are also able to see online.
Laura Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/SchulteLaura.