Given the delays in getting cases heard (for the week ending 7/31/2021, 4,732 hearings were scheduled, but the number of hearings still waiting to be scheduled stood at 13,151, up from 12,780 as of 5/1/2021 despite over 4000 hearings be scheduled each week), hundreds if not thousands of claimants will not find out about their eligibility for regular unemployment benefits or their PUA eligibility until well after September 4th, when PUA benefits expire. After that date, filing an initial claim for PUA benefits will likely NOT be possible. So, claimants need to consider filing an initial claim for PUA benefits while they still can.
Note: While the Labor and Industry Review Commission is correcting many of the bad decisions by the Department, the sheer number of bad decisions has led to a crushing caseload at the Commission. Simple errors by appeal tribunals concerning wrong dates or the failure to apply federal guidance, for example, are not being corrected. And so, appeals to the Commission are needed. The result is that an appeal filed today may take a year to be decided by the Commission.
Furthermore, the Department is currently re-investigating all paid claims. Should the Department conclude that you were not eligible for the unemployment benefits paid to you, you will likely face an over-payment of at least $20,000 when all the additional PUC and LWA benefits are added up (and amounts up to $40,000 or more are possible). Without the option of possibly re-qualifying for PUA benefits, those amounts will be owed without any ability to collect under the program specifically designed to help those who do not normally qualify for regular unemployment benefits — PUA benefits.
Wisconsin: where initial claims go to die
Very few initial PUA claims in Wisconsin — just one out of four — have led to the payment of PUA benefits. Here is how Wisconsin compares to its neighbors and other key states in regards to PUA claims and weekly benefits paid.
ST Ini. Claims First Paymts Percent Weeks Comp. WI 177,745 43,838 24.66% 1,373,636 IA 98,863 38,926 39.37% 1,089,524 IL 651,856 274,512 42.11% 14,443,527 IN 691,499 299,076 43.25% 7,233,059 MA 984,279 631,681 64.18% 17,709,893 MI 1,782,454 1,001,341 56.18% 29,078,945 MN (State's initial claim data is n/a) 3,081,476 NC 502,777 268,930 53.49% 8,396,506 NJ 800,024 593,233 74.15% 20,375,078 OR 346,410 115,293 33.28% 4,124,322 PA 2,402,228 1,297,421 54.01% 39,283,873
Of these states, Wisconsin has by far the lowest percentage of PUA initial claims leading to the payment of benefits. As a consequence, very few PUA weekly certifications in Wisconsin are leading to the payment of PUA benefits. The weeks compensated in Wisconsin are significantly lower than all other states but Iowa, and Iowa is only lower than Wisconsin because the PUA initial claims filed in Iowa are 56% of the already low number of PUA initial claims filed in Wisconsin.
Outside of Iowa (in general a rural state), these other states are seeing both much higher numbers of PUA initial claims being filed and a much higher percentage of those PUA initial claims being approved.
Data for initial claims for regular unemployment benefits in Wisconsin is not much better. Here is the percentage of initial claims for regular unemployment benefits that have been paid since the pandemic started in March 2020.
ST Ini. Claims First Paymts Percent WI 1,503,897 415,110 27.60% AR 529,685 209,554 39.56% CO 1,508,834 646,831 42.87% IA 668,514 344,746 51.57% IL 4,051,684 1,513,292 37.35% IN 2,128,074 663,556 31.18% MN (State's initial claim data is n/a) MI 2,594,914 1,386,616 53.44% NC 1,903,903 788,429 41.41% NJ 2,297,069 902,070 39.27% OR 914,583 497,657 54.41% PA 3,230,852 1,500,655 46.45%
Again, Wisconsin has the lowest percentage of initial claims for regular unemployment benefits being paid. Prior to the pandemic, initial claims for regular unemployment benefits were being paid at a 38.81% clip, over 10% higher than what is happening since the pandemic started. Only Indiana, another state that like Wisconsin has made claim-filing extremely difficult, is the percentage of initial claims for regular unemployment being paid under 32%.
So, with all these initial claims being denied, claimants need to preserve their eligibility as much as possible. Since eligibility for PUA benefits is likely going to end after September 5th, claimants have until September 4th to file any new initial claims for PUA benefits.
Here is what you need to do for these backup PUA initial claims.
Identity the reason for the backup PUA initial claim
This new PUA initial claim form has the specified reasons for PUA eligibility listed.
- I have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or am experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and am seeking a medical diagnosis.
- A member of my household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- I am providing care for a family member or a member of my household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- A child or other person in my household for which I am the primary caregiver is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for me to work.
- I am unable to reach my place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- I am unable to reach my place of employment because I have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
- I was scheduled to commence employment and do not have a job or am unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- I have become the breadwinner or major support for my household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.
- I quit my job as a direct result of COVID-19.
- My place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- I am self-employed (including an independent contractor and gig worker) and experienced a significant reduction of my customary or usual services because of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- I was denied continued unemployment benefits because I refused to return to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite that, in either instance, is not in compliance with local, state, or national health and safety standards directly related to COVID-19. This includes but is not limited to, those related to facial mask wearing, physical distancing measures, or the provision of personal protective equipment consistent with public health guidelines.
- I provide services to an educational institution or educational service agency and am unemployed or partially unemployed because of volatility in the work schedule that is directly caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency. This includes, but is not limited to, changes in schedules and partial closures.
- I am an employee and my hours have been reduced or I was laid off as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
If one of these pandemic job-loss reasons applies to you, then a backup PUA initial claim is possible.
If none of these pandemic job-loss reasons apply to you, then you probably do NOT qualify for PUA benefits and a backup PUA initial claim would be pointless.
In selecting one or more reasons, there should be little to no ambiguity or question for why that reason applies to you. If you need to explain the reason selected, then it probably does NOT apply. For example:
- The restaurant either closed to the public or it did not close (note, a dining room closed to the public is closed, even if the restaurant still serves take-out customers).
- A medical provider wanting you quarantined — period — is needed for the quarantine reason. Deciding to quarantine yourself out of your own personal health concerns does not count, unless you are a medical provider yourself.
- There must be an actual and significant reduction in work hours tied to Covid-19. If you normally worked around 20 hours a week, and you worked 18 hours a week here and there but 21 and 22 hours on other weeks, there does not seem to be an actual reduction in work hours tied to the pandemic even if you are making less money.
- You must be caring for someone in your household or sick yourself from Covid-19 or waiting on a test result for Covid-19. Just being sick and thinking the illness is related to Covid-19 is not enough.
In other words, select the reason or reasons that apply. You should not need to provide any kind of elaboration. And, if you only check the box for “none of the above,” then the Department will automatically deny your PUA initial claim because you have not identified a valid reason for granting you PUA benefits.
Identify the start date for the backup PUA initial claim
The second key piece of information you need is the date of your pandemic-related job loss. From the reasons listed above, identify the specific date that the event occurred.
If multiple reasons apply on different dates, then you will need to file separate initial PUA claims for each separate date.
If there are multiple reasons that apply for the same date, then select all of those reasons for the date. For instance, if your workplace closed on the same day that the childcare provider closed, then both the business closure reason and the primary caregiver because of closed childcare reason apply, and both should be selected. As long as the reasons occur in the same calendar week, they will apply for the same PUA initial claim.
How to file a backup PUA initial claim
First, try to file this new/backup PUA claim on the portal. Once you login to the portal, be careful where you click.
The Department has instituted a set of screening questions as well. Depending on how you answer these questions, you may end up in two options that prevent you from filing a new/backup PUA initial claim.
In option one, you want to avoid having a pending initial claim for regular unemployment benefits that keeps you from filing a PUA initial claim, especially since the Department is unlikely to have that initial claim for regular unemployment resolved before September 4th.
So, if you end up with this option, you need to select “yes” for being denied regular unemployment insurance benefits even if the regular UI initial claim is still pending (since only 27% are being paid, your initial claim for regular unemployment benefits will likely be denied).
For option two, make sure the pandemic-related reasons for your PUA initial claim have changed from what you previously filed. A second reason in addition to the original reason is a legally sufficient change.
Finally, if manage to get through this screening process, here is what the on-line PUA initial claim form looks like.
If the on-line/portal option is not available, call the PUA support line at 608-318-7100 to see if you can file the PUA initial claims with a staffer. The staffer will likely take you through the same set of screening questions listed above.
Second, if the staffer refuses to take your initial claim over the phone, fill out the new PUA form and mail it and supporting documents to:
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program
PO Box 7905
Madison WI 53707
Make sure to note the date you mail in this application and to keep copies of whatever you send in or submit.
As usual, look for paper copies in the mail about any decisions. Messages on the portal are generally NOT helpful.
- A backup PUA claim only applies to those currently receiving regular unemployment benefits or PEUC benefits, those who have had their PUA initial claim denied, or those whose initial PUA claim has yet to be approved.
- Those currently receiving PUA benefits should probably NOT file a backup PUA claim.
- Those whose PUA claims were denied, and those denials are currently in litigation (either with a hearing before an administrative law judge or an appeal before the Labor and Industry Review Commission) should consider filing a backup PUA claim on the chance that they lose their current case.
- Those who filed late appeals for PUA claims being denied or who did not appeal those denials should consider filing a backup PUA initial claim if the original PUA initial claim cannot be revived. See the discussion of late appeals in the unemployment primer and the discussion of bad advice allowing late appeals or withdrawn appeals to be re-activated in delays, part 2 about how to revive these kinds of claims. If you can revive your claim in the next few weeks, do NOT file a backup PUA initial claim.
- For claimants receiving PEUC benefits who do not have a pandemic-related job loss (see above), then a backup PUA claim is not an option. You cannot extend your benefits past the week ending 9/4/2021 with PUA benefits. Any benefits paid after Sept. 4th will depend on whether you can establish a new benefit year based your prior wage earnings. For what is a benefit year, see the discussion of benefit year eligibility in the unemployment primer.
As previously described, the premature end for PEUC benefits and other federal supplements like PUC and PUA will have problematic economic consequences for everyone.