Gov. Tony Evers ousts DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman, citing jobless claim backlog — 9/18/20

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Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Friday announced the ouster of Caleb Frostman, the workforce development secretary, citing his department’s delays in processing unemployment insurance claims. The Department of Workforce Development’s struggles leave jobless Wisconsinites waiting weeks or even months for income during the pandemic-induced recession.

Evers said he asked for and received Frostman’s resignation, which is effective immediately. Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary Amy Pechacek will lead the  DWD’s transition until a new secretary is appointed, Evers’ office said in a news release.

“People across our state are struggling to make ends meet, and it is unacceptable that Wisconsinites continue to wait for the support they need during these challenging times,” Evers, a Democrat, said in a statement. “It is clear that our unemployment system has faced historic levels of claims these past few months, hindered in part by antiquated technology we inherited, and processes designed by Republicans to make it harder for folks to get these benefits.”

The DWD has received more than 6.5 million unemployment insurance claims since mid-March, and more than 713,500 claims (10.9%) have yet to be processed, according to data released Monday. Those claims represent more than 93,000 people. 

The agency so far paid more than $3.68 billion to nearly 514,000 claimants during the pandemic, the data show.

Frostman and Democrats have blamed his agency’s slow pace on a chronically underfunded and outdated computer system and initial short staffing that left his agency ill-equipped to handle the rapid onslaught of claims. Republican lawmakers accused Frostman and Evers of lacking urgency — waiting too long to expand call center hours and shift employees to address the biggest problems.

More than 130 DWD employees were reassigned to the Unemployment Insurance Division during the pandemic, according to Evers’ office. The agency now has more than 1,500 people working on UI cases, a 250% increase compared to previous years.

For more on the state’s unemployment insurance crisis — and its impact on Wisconsinites — see our series Lives on Hold.

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