New pandemic unemployment benefits started going out to some unemployment recipients Thursday, March 4, more than two months after the benefits became law in December. But the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is also warning that some recipients will see further delays.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) is an extension to regular unemployment, allowing recipients to receive extra weeks of unemployment coverage past the maximum 26 weeks.
Originally, when the program was created by Congress in March 2020, recipients were granted 13 weeks of benefits under the program. When the second round of federal coronavirus relief was signed into law in December, Congress granted recipients an additional 11 weeks of benefits under PEUC, allowing them to claim a maximum of 24 weeks of benefits under the program.
The new benefits created in December meant that those who had already exhausted their original 13 weeks of benefits were eligible for close to three more months of benefits.
According to the DWD, PEUC payments will begin going out to recipients Thursday, and recipients online web portals should have been updated Thursday evening or Friday morning.
But confusion is mounting about who received their payments on Thursday, the day DWD has been telling unemployment recipients about for months, and who will have to wait longer, according to interviews with unemployment recipients and posts in online unemployment support groups.
In a message on the department's PEUC landing page, DWD tells recipients that if they filed for PEUC, but their online portal doesn't show payments by March 5, "your claim cannot be processed automatically." The message goes on to say DWD staff are working to process those claims as quickly as possible.
By Thursday afternoon, Lee Schutter, a Verona resident who has been without unemployment benefits since October, still hadn't received her payment. Schutter said she, like other unemployment recipients, has been practically counting down until March 4, expecting payments to come the day DWD said they would.
"People are getting very, very frustrated, myself included, as to, why put that out there if you can't hit it?" Schutter said. "Are there more excuses, or is the payout going to happen? That's what we want to know."
Gina Mahnke, a Greendale resident who's gone without unemployment since December, started checking her bank account around 2 a.m. Thursday, but said by Thursday afternoon she also hadn't received her payment.
Mahnke, who has a young daughter, said bills have been stacking up for months.
"My kid, she wanted to get her class ring, I couldn't even afford to do that," Mahnke said. "It's been borrowing money after borrowing money, and it's like, OK now ... I have no more money to borrow from anybody."
DWD has attributed the months-long wait to the department's aging computer system, and the large amount of coding required to set up new unemployment benefits. But the delay has pushed many unemployment recipients waiting for the benefits to the financial brink.
PEUC is the second of four new pandemic unemployment benefits created in December that DWD has launched to date.
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) is a weekly $300 supplement that is added to a recipient's state-level benefits. FPUC began paying out in January.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides unemployment insurance for those not typically eligible for unemployment, like self-employed and contract workers. In December, Congress also granted PUA recipients an extra 11 weeks of benefits under the program. DWD has said those new benefits will likely not pay out until late April.
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