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  • April 23, 2021

    Lawyers: We Need You Now for Wisconsin's Unemployment Claims Crisis

    Wisconsin’s unemployment hearing backlog seems overwhelming, and the low win rate could mean financial catastrophe for claimants, says Victor Forberger. Lawyers are needed to help them –here is where and how to get involved.

    Victor J. Forberger

    Lawyers are needed now for the unemployment crisis.

    As of Jan. 31, 2021, there were nearly 16,000 cases waiting for a hearing in Wisconsin. With new administrative law judges at work starting at the end of March, several hundred hearings are now occurring each week.

    Still, given the size of the hearing backlog, many claimants have been waiting months – in some cases now a year – for unemployment benefits. More than a few who have received benefits are now finding those past benefit awards overturned, and are being order to repay thousands of dollars regardless of ability to do so – and federal law that requires an ability to repay be considered for those overpayments.

    Furthermore,news reporters inform me that claimants are only winning around 30% of their appeal tribunal decisions, after an appeal of an initial determining denying their claim (roughly the same percentage prior to the pandemic).

    That percentage is terrible. In my experience, almost all of the initial determinations denying claims I see are for ambiguous reasoning or legal issues that no longer apply because of additional federal guidance. This low win rate for claimants at their unemployment hearings indicates that these problems persist into the hearings, with the result of individuals not receiving the benefits to which they are legally entitled.

    Victor Forberger Victor Forberger, Northeastern 1997, is a solo practitioner in Madison representing employees and employers in employment and labor law cases. Since the pandemic, he is now doing almost entirely unemployment cases and explaining the problems with the claim-filing process to countless others.

    Wisconsin’s Disaster

    The unemployment crisis literally is a disaster for Wisconsin. Claimants have been waiting months for their claims to be decided, only to see those claims denied for reasons they do not understand.

    Now they are waiting for hearings that will take four to eight months to occur. Without representation, they are losing those hearings – so getting involved in these cases can save someone from financial catastrophe.

    How to Save Someone from Financial Catastrophe

    Representation is more than ever essential for these hearings. In March, I did a video interview with the State Bar of Wisconsin, pleading for more lawyers to get involved with these unemployment cases.

    To assist with these hearings, you can sign up for:

    Training Resources

    Lawyers who want to help should:

    Also, you should also view training from May 2020 by Legal Action and Judicare, available on the Marquette Law School website. For convenience, here are direct links to the unemployment training sessions.

    • Decrypting Unemployment Compensation Denials Through Advice and Brief Service (see the video; here are the materials);

    • Understanding UI Benefits During the COVID-19 Pandemic (video; materials);

    • Telephonic Hearings: Advocating for Workers with Unemployment Claims (video; materials);

    • Unemployment Appeals: Evaluating your Client's Denial & Considering Defenses (video; materials).

    Much is changing with unemployment during the course of this pandemic. So, besides the training videos and resources above, additional information on numerous topics common to many cases are available:

    Also, there is a general explanation of the different kinds of benefits – PUA, PEUC, EB, PUC, and LWA – now available with the pandemic, including how they do or do not interact with each other. Many of the delays and confusion relate to navigating through these different programs.

    For specific issues involving PUA eligibility issues (probably the most unemployment eligibility issue in Wisconsin), see these articles:

    For changes in PUA and PEUC benefits, additional PUC benefits, and new MEUC benefits available with the Continued Assistance Act passed at the end of 2021, see this post.

    There are resources for getting help over these delays or finding financial assistance for rent and food and other resources and needs.

    For other problems with unemployment claims, see:

    To assist claimants in getting actual documents or relevant information from their unemployment portal, see these directions.

    The actual online claim-filing screens are now available.

    Additionally, at noon to 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday, May 25, 2021, I am presenting the CLE program Representing Claimants at Unemployment Hearings: Riding out the Fallout of a Pandemic from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®. Tuition is discounted at $20 for members of the Labor and Employment Law Section, and registration is open.

    Finally, my unemployment blog has numerous other posts on information and problems as they occur. For instance, you can see how other states responded to the crisis early on. Or, you can see some confusion being created by the department by its prompt for new initial claims needing to be filed. So, check out my blog on a regular basis (sign up for the RSS feed), and search it for information that is not already available to you.

    This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Labor & Employment Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Labor & Employment Law Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.

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    Labor & Employment Law Section Blog is published by the State Bar of Wisconsin; blog posts are written by section members. To contribute to this blog, contact Andrea Farrell and review Author Submission Guidelines. Learn more about the Labor & Employment Law Section or become a member.

    Disclaimer: Views presented in blog posts are those of the blog post authors, not necessarily those of the Section or the State Bar of Wisconsin. Due to the rapidly changing nature of law and our reliance on information provided by outside sources, the State Bar of Wisconsin makes no warranty or guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this content.

    © 2024 State Bar of Wisconsin, P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158.

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