Successfully navigating state’s unemployment benefits is a challenge
The questions are specific.
The instructions are clear—or as clear as government-produced instructions can be.
But people applying for unemployment still make mistakes, and that can result in the delay of the much-needed benefit check.
“About 70 percent of first-time filers get their checks in a week or less,” said John Dipko, Department of Workforce Development communications director.
For the rest, it’s usually not the complicated questions that trip them up but the straightforward ones such as, “When was your last date of work?”
We talked to the Hal Bergan, administrator for the department’s unemployment division, about the most common mistakes.
People can file online at unemployment.wisconsin.gov 24 hours a day or by calling 1-800-822-5246 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
“Our services have changed over the past year, and there’s a much larger number of people who can now file online,” Bergan said.
Before filing, you should collect:
-- Your Social Security number.
-- Your Wisconsin drivers license (if you have one).
-- The names of everyone you worked for in the past 18 months including full address with zip code, telephone number, the reason you no longer work there and first and last days of work.
-- Alien registration number (if you are not a citizen).
-- The name and local number of your union hall (if you’re a member of a skilled trades union).
In most cases, filing online takes less than 20 minutes.
If everything goes smoothly, claimants can receive their checks in as little as two days.
Dates and data
“One of the problems that causes us to delay a claim is when what we hear from the claimant is different from what we hear from the employee,” Bergan said.
He’s not talking about benefit fraud but unintentional errors.
“The employee might say the last day they worked was Friday, July 2, and the employer will say it was Wednesday,” Bergan said. “It’s one people still often get wrong.”
Here’s another one: When asked for wage amounts for a particular period, you should use the gross—not the net—amount. The gross amount is what you made before taxes were taken out.
Include premium pay, such as extra money earned for working night shifts.
Available means available
One of the first questions filers answer is, “During the week, were you able to work full-time and available for full-time work?”
The question isn’t, “Were you available to work for your old employer?” but “Were you available to work, period.”
“In order to receive benefits, you have to be available for work,” Bergan said. “If you broke your leg and couldn’t work, the answer is, ‘No.’”
A “no” answer means no benefits.
“The state’s workweek is from Sunday to Saturday, and that can cause issues with people,” Bergan said.
If your workweek, for example, runs from Wednesday to Sunday, you still can get unemployment benefits, but you’ll get benefits for only four days—Wednesday through Saturday. Over a period of several weeks, payments would even out as you continue to file.
Read the form
First-time filers will get a claim confirmation and instructions letter. It reads, “Your monetary computation has been calculated and will be sent in a separate mailing.”
This is not the same as “your money is on the way.”
Filing for unemployment is a two-step process.
The first step is an initial claim application filed during the week you are unemployed or the week after.
The second step is a weekly claim certification filed within 14 days of the end of the calendar week you are claiming, but you cannot file your claim certification for that week until after that week has ended.
How about that extension?
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls about the status of federal extensions,” Bergan said.
An extension of unemployment benefits has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Senate will take up the issue when it reconvenes Monday.
People whose benefits have run out should continue to file, Bergan said. If the extensions are approved, filers will receive benefits retroactive to June. 1.
Benefits will be available for those who haven’t continued to file weekly claims, but they’ll take longer to process.