UPDATED on May 7, 2020. View updates.

With a record 1,185,952 weekly unemployment claims filed in Wisconsin between March 15 and April 25, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) reports 63% (747,855) of those claims have been paid. DWD has processed the same number of claims in the past five weeks that it did in eight months in 2019, according to its press release on April 29. That puts Wisconsin in the top quartile nationally for processing claims, according to a recent Pew Research Center study (cited in DWD’s release).

Also, despite the abnormally high volume of claims, Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance trust fund is currently able to keep pace, according to a recent U.S. Department of Labor Trust Fund Solvency Report. Compiled by The Wheeler Report, below is a monthly overview of Wisconsin’s fund for 2020:

Month State UI Deposits State UI Withdrawals Beginning Balance Ending Balance
January 2020 $52,884,786 $49,152,779.27 $1,971,405,286.58 $1,974,854,226.11
February 2020 $3,547,495 45,714,767.27 $1,974,854,226.11 $1,930,390,708.02
March 2020 $3,224,695 58,805,735.76 $1,930,390,708.02 $1,885,875,870.14
April 2020 $9,045,521 74,745,713.30 $1,885,875,870.14 $1,829,633,063.84
May 1, 2020       $1,862,656,170

 

Aside from those bright spots, the flood of applications has exposed several issues with DWD’s Unemployment Insurance Division. Despite the $384.3 million in unemployment benefits DWD has dispersed as of May 2, the department’s aging technology has been unable to keep up with the swell of claims caused by the pandemic. The department is in the process of filling over 120 jobs that include claim specialists and people needed to perform manual tasks on claims and process paperwork, because DWD’s software system is a half-century old. 

Software that old just doesn’t speak well with more modern technology. On April 30, DWD reported that applicants who have an account through US Bank received double the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensations amount, and the agency had to pull the extra money back from those accounts. Furthermore, DWD said it was unable to be sure how many people were impacted. 

Nationally, ADP reported a massive loss of 20.2 million jobs in April, driving some national sources to predict that Friday’s official government report could be worse. The latest jobless claims figure is expected to be released today and numbers are expected to go from 3 million to 3.8 million, which means the total since mid-March is around 33 million. 

UPDATE

On May 7, DWD issued a press release (view on WisPolitics.com) indicating Wisconsin’s UI Trust Fund will be exhausted as early as October 2020 if the surge in claims continues. 

In the release, DWD outlines three fund exhaustion scenarios based on different assumptions. The surge in unemployment claims is 194% higher than the average number of weekly claims UI received during the first year of the Great Recession. It is unknown how long the unprecedented volume will last, but DWD is attempting to project when/if the UI Trust Fund may exhaust, forcing Wisconsin to borrow from the federal government in order to pay benefits (which it did during the Great Recession). The most critical variable is the level of weekly claims received moving forward. 

Under the first projected scenario, UI receives 255,000 payable claims per week* which results in a fund exhaustion date of Oct. 11, 2020. Under the second scenario, UI receives 170,000 payable claims per week and the fund exhausts on Jan. 3, 2021. The third scenario assumes UI receives 85,000 payable claims per week and the fund exhausts on Sept. 19, 2021. 

DWD’s analysis does not include future employer-paid unemployment insurance tax revenue, which would be deposited into the Trust Fund, prolonging the viability of the fund beyond the scenarios described above. The analysis is based on three assumptions: 

  • An average weekly benefit of $325 
  • 85% of claims are paid from the state Regular UI 
  • 94% of benefits are charged to the UI Trust Fund 

Nine states have already indicated they will need federal assistance in order to meet their benefit obligations: California (which has already taken out a $348M loan), Illinois, Texas, New York, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Ohio, and West Virginia. 

* The number of payable claims per week are for modeling purposes only, not projected levels from DWD.