She quit her job to care for her children during COVID. Now Wisconsin is demanding a refund of $ 30,000 for unemployment benefits.

When Dominique Aldridge quit her job as a certified nursing assistant in Green Bay last March, it was because her three young children – two of whom were of school age – suddenly had no day care when schools were called. closed when COVID-19 first spread in Wisconsin.

She is now back to work after moving to Chicago, with her children’s new schools reopening in late spring. But the state’s Department of Workforce Development is threatening a tenure if she doesn’t repay the $ 29,706 they paid her in regular and additional federal unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

“With all of this being closed, I had no way to work,” she said.

She is the sole babysitter of her children, and people who had to quit their jobs to care for children during the pandemic are one of the qualifications required for PUA, the federal program has started paying unemployment for those who do not would normally not qualify. She was on PUA for a while, she said. But most of the unemployment and the benefits the DWD wants to reimburse him come from regular unemployment and the enhanced federal benefit.

“If I was ever supposed to have the normal user interface… this should have been fixed,” Dominique said. “You all work there; I don’t work there.

Real or suspected classification errors threaten financial disaster for applicants

The problem at play is that the DWD says Dominique worked at a job in April 2020 for less than a week that she did not report to the DWD – something they only worked for months after him. have paid regular unemployment benefits. Dominique said she had multiple jobs when the pandemic brought it to a halt.

Employment attorney Victor Forberger said most applicants do not understand that every job must be assessed for unemployment, which most states gave up at the start of the pandemic, but Wisconsin did not. .

“It has created a nightmare situation, especially with lower economy class people who have multiple jobs,” Forberger explained.

The state says she did not respond to phone calls asking her to correct the April error, but Dominique maintains that she called back after each voicemail message and was unable to get through or was continuously obtained conflicting information from referees and other respondents.

“I called DWD everyday to talk to someone, and I was told something different every day.”

The state criticizes him for not providing full information during the application process and for not returning the phone calls to get more details on his application. Aldridge says she didn’t even submit all of the requests herself (the state says records show she made the initial request herself, but did not respond to questions about the requests afterwards. switch to arbitration), and referred every phone call from the arbitrators. She rarely could get through it, or when she did, she was told they had the information they needed – or a combination of other conflicting information.

Dominique applied for regular unemployment and then said she was later transferred to the Emergency Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program. After that, she was enrolled in the Unemployment Pandemic Assistance Program. Then she was handed over.

“I don’t know how it’s going,” she said.

It was confusing, and she says that in the end, it’s not her fault. The state threatens her with a warrant and damage to her credit rating if she doesn’t pay. She is appealing the decision and now she’s stuck in a wait for a hearing process that is expected to take months or more.

“I don’t work there, I wasn’t the one who put the deal together,” she said. “A real representative there made the request for me.”

She is now back to school to get her nursing degree while working part time as CNA and looking after her children. As for the state, the nearly $ 30,000 bill is on it.

“It’s worse now than during the pandemic”

Claims denied during the pandemic or filed with errors have resulted in a backlog of appeals and hearings, leaving thousands in limbo even as the state gets back to work.

Employment attorney Victor Forberger, who frequently deals with clients struggling with unemployment and runs a website about the Wisconsin unemployment system, says an overly complicated appeals process has left claims stacked up that rarely translate into good news for applicants.

“It’s worse now than during the pandemic,” Forberger said. Currently, there are over 12,000 cases awaiting hearings. “Most of these decisions go against the plaintiffs.”

In 2020, the DWD reported $ 66.4 million in unemployment benefit overpayments to nearly 80,000 claimants, most of whom were considered non-fraudulent. Currently, the DWD told News 3 that approximately 57,000 people have excess unemployment benefit balances. Most are due to errors or mistakes on the claimant’s side, according to the DWD, such as not reporting wages correctly.

“Unemployment insurance programs are complex and have been made even more complex by the multiple federal programs that were superimposed on existing state unemployment insurance programs at the start of the pandemic,” said a spokesperson for the DWD in an email.

Forberger argues that the entire system, which he says now uses well over 100 questions to determine eligibility, down from less than 10 in the late 2000s, is designed to confuse participants.

“The magic words have to be used, and if you don’t use the magic words, you lose,” Forberger said. “The technical term for this is called administrative sludge… you create hoops and obstacles so they can jump and climb. And so they cannot get these benefits successfully except for an elite who become experts in the system. “

The federal government told states earlier in 2021 that they could waive unemployment overpayments that were not the claimant’s fault. But the state argues that most of them are the responsibility of the individual, where the waiver system would not apply. For them, if they lose their calls, the option they have left is a payment plan.

“I wasn’t there trying not to do anything fraudulent,” Dominique said. “I literally had to stop my job and take care of my kids. I had no one other than me.

Do you have a tip or a story to dig? Contact the News 3 investigation team at [email protected]

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