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Out-Of-Work Wisconsinites ‘Limp Along Financially’ As They Wait For New Unemployment Benefits

Nearly 1 Month After They Became Law, DWD Won't Say When New PUA, PEUC Benefits Will Be Available

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Angela Major/WPR

Nearly a month after new unemployment benefits were signed into law under the second round of federal coronavirus relief, the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD) still will not share a timeline for when two new sets of benefits will be available to out-of-work Wisconsinites.

The latest stimulus package made an extra 11 weeks of unemployment benefits available under two unemployment programs: Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which extends the amount of time someone can receive unemployment; and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides unemployment benefits to those not typically eligible for unemployment like the self-employed and contract workers.

That means Wisconsinites who had previously exhausted their benefits under PUA and PEUC could now be eligible for an extra 11 weeks of benefits.

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Former President Donald Trump signed the benefits into law Dec. 27, close to a month ago. But since early January, DWD has not responded to multiple requests for comment about when the programs will start paying out to recipients in Wisconsin.

On Jan. 8, DWD spokesperson Grace Kim said the department was unable to say when PUA and PEUC benefits would be set up, but said DWD was “working on these programs to deploy as quickly as possible.”

Carol Cizauskas’ family has been waiting for the extra PEUC benefits for weeks. Her husband, who asked that WPR not share his name, lost his restaurant job in March. After his unemployment insurance ran out in mid-December, the two have been forced to live only on Cizauskas’ income, putting an even greater strain on their finances as they wait for DWD to make the new benefits available.

“What do they say — most American families can’t afford something like a $400 or $600 emergency?” Cizauskas said. “Well, we’re at that point.”

Cizauskas said her husband recently got in a car accident, totaling their only car. But the two continue to drive the vehicle, using the insurance payout to cover basic expenses instead of fixing it.

“We’re using that $2,000 to help us limp along financially,” she said. “And we’re still driving the car because we have to, so we just hope we don’t have another fender bender … because then we will be out of transportation.”

Michele Evermore, an unemployment expert at the left-leaning National Employment Law Project, said part of the reason for the delay in programming new unemployment benefits this time around has to do with the number of big and small changes Congress made to unemployment programs in the second round of coronavirus relief. That, in addition to what Evermore calls the states’ “creaky” computer systems, has led to long delays for unemployment recipients.

“I would say that most states really don’t have everything up and running, although most states have (one of the new benefits) up and running so far,” Evermore said.

DWD has started paying out a $300 weekly unemployment insurance supplement that is added to a recipient’s state-level benefits. That supplement is a third unemployment benefit made available in the latest coronavirus relief package.

Some unemployment recipients expressed frustration over the department’s decision to program the $300 supplement first. Cizauskas pointed out that those who are waiting for either PEUC or PUA benefits are not receiving any unemployment benefits at all, while the $300-a-week supplement only goes to those who are still receiving some level of unemployment aid.

President Joe Biden has proposed upping that supplement to $400 a week and extending enhanced unemployment benefits through the end of September as part of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus “rescue package.” It remains to be seen if Congress will approve those enhancements or if they will be lowered in negotiations over the package.

In the last week of December, close to 60,000 claims were filed in the PEUC and PUA programs in Wisconsin.

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