Evers administration plans to simplify unemployment claims

December 30, 2020 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers’ administration plans to clarify questions on unemployment benefit applications starting this spring as it wrestles with a massive backlog of unprocessed claims resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Workforce Development announced the revisions Monday evening. The department has tweaked initial and weekly claim applications to feature what it’s calling “plain language.” Department officials say the language is intended to be clear to everyone, regardless of their education and cultural backgrounds, and should help applicants understand questions and avoid erroneous answers that could prompt investigations and delay processing.

The department is seeking public feedback on the changes. People can view a draft of the new applications on the department’s website and leave comments through Jan. 8. It plans to begin reprogramming its systems with the new applications and hopes to begin posting them for use in March.

The DWD has been flooded with tens of thousands of unemployment benefit claims as businesses across the state have closed or laid off employees due to the pandemic, resulting in a massive backlog of applications. Evers has taken criticism from Republicans for months over his administration’s inability to eliminate it.

Also on Monday, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat, announced she has tested positive for the virus. Moore, 69, said she is in isolation but feels well.

Meanwhile, clinicians had to discard about 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton after they were left unrefrigerated for too long. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that someone removed 50 vials from a refrigerator to access other items and failed to put them back overnight Friday. Each vial contained 10 doses of vaccine.

Clinicians were still able to administer some of the vaccine from the vials within the allowable 12 hour post-refrigeration window but had to discard most of it. Once the vaccine is thawed, it cannot be refrozen.

The state Department of Health Services launched a new web page Tuesday tracking vaccinations statewide. It will be updated every Tuesday with data current as of 11:30 a.m. on the preceding Monday.

The site showed that as of Monday morning, 47,157 doses had been administered since inoculations began in Wisconsin on Dec. 14. The Pfizer vaccine accounted for 40,850 doses and Moderna 6,306. The state has been allocated 265,575 total vaccine doses, with 156,875 doses shipped so far, according to the site.

The DHS reported 2,384 newly confirmed infections Tuesday. The state has now seen 474,537 cases since the pandemic began. The virus was a factor in 72 more deaths, pushing the state’s overall death toll to 4,783. The seven-day average of positive tests was 8.9%. The survival rate remained at 99%.

Meanwhile Tuesday, Wisconsin Assembly Republican Speaker Robin Vos’ spokeswoman, Kit Beyer, confirmed that members will have to attend hearings and floor votes in person when the new two-year session begins next month.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz sent Vos a letter Tuesday afternoon asking Vos to allow virtual attendance, saying the pandemic has only grown worse and many lawmakers and staff don’t wear masks in the state Capitol. Vos rejected the request, issuing a statement saying that people go to work safely every day and Assembly members can, too.

The last time the Assembly convened was for an April floor period to adopt a coronavirus relief package. Members were allowed to attend that session virtually after the chamber’s leaders created a one-time exception to in-person attendance.

Adam Gibbs, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, also didn’t return a message inquiring about whether senators will be allowed to attend hearings and floor periods virtually.


Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1