MADISON —Carol Glupker’s blood pressure spiked to dangerously high levels last week, so high she had to go to the emergency room.
The 60-year-old Milwaukee woman said she had never had high blood pressure before her three-month-plus misadventure in a dysfunctional state unemployment insurance system.
“Now I’m going to have to go on high blood pressure medicine because I can’t sleep at night,” she told Wisconsin Spotlight last week.
On Friday, Glupker said she had $40 in her checkbook before the $25 cost of her new meds. She’s financially depleted, like thousands of her fellow Wisconsinites who have gone months without the unemployment benefits they’ve applied for.
98 days and counting
Glupker’s story is sadly all too familiar. In March, the pandemic and Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide lockdown left her out of two jobs. She worked about 15 hours a week in Medicare insurance sales and 15 to 20 hours at a Milwaukee supper club.
She filed her first unemployment claim on March 23. A benefits specialist at the state Department of Workforce Development told Glupker to fax in some information to the office. The only other contact from the agency was a questionnaire sent to the displaced worker on April 14.
Glupker said she heard nothing from DWD, despite her many efforts to reach someone, until nearly a month later. Finally, on May 15, Glupker said DWD denied her claim. The agency claimed she quit her insurance job. She didn’t.
A day before, her boss faxed — again, with the faxing — into DWD a letter to “clear up a misunderstanding” about his employee.
"...I had to make the decision to LAY HER OFF. She did not QUIT her employment with me,” the employer wrote with emphasis.
He said he wanted Glupker to come into the office located in his home after Evers issued his "Safer at Home" order. But Glupker, concerned about COVID-19, told her employer that she wanted to work from home, the letter states.
“Once things open up I hope I can bring her back to work,” the employer wrote.
So why was Glupker denied? Why isn’t she receiving benefits after losing her job when the supper club shut down? DWD didn’t tell her.
She has appealed.
A DWD agent did tell her originally to apply for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which has provided millions of Americans (that governments have forced out of work) with a minimum $600 monthly — on top of their traditional unemployment insurance.
Glupker filed for PUA on May 15. She was finally contacted by a DWD agent more than a month later.
“She said, ‘You weren’t supposed to apply for that. We won’t look at your case until your appeal is completed.’ Then they told me that I would need to send in all of my W2s and pay stubs and that it would be at least another 45 days,” Glupker said.
So that’s another month and a half on top of more than three months without a dime of help from an agency that recently reported north of 151,000 individual claimants still waiting for unemployment benefits or an administrative decision from DWD. Some 860,000 jobless claims had yet to be paid.
“It’s just crazy. It’s absolutely crazy,” Glupker said.
She reached out to U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s office. A constituent services official for the Menomonee Falls congressman told Glupker the program is funded through federal tax dollars but is administered by the state.
So, back to the broken DWD Unemployment Insurance Division.
She reached out to the office of state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield). She said staff there have been very helpful but can only do so much. She called Evers’ office. Someone there said he’d work on her problem and get back to her. More than a week later, nothing, Glupker said.
Desperation is setting in.
“Me, as an individual, I live by myself. I have no money coming in,” Glupker said. “I have depleted all of my savings account, all my 401(k). I have nothing left anymore.”
As she waits for DWD to figure out what it’s doing, the clock on Glupker’s mortgage reprieve is ticking. Her first-time-homebuyer loan allows her to forgo mortgage payments for up to six months. Come September, all those delayed monthly payments — $6,000-worth — will come due, she said.
“How do I come up with that money?” she said.
Thankfully, the restaurant has reopened. But Milwaukee’s restrictive COVID-19 health order had only allowed 25 percent capacity. That means fewer employees are needed. The supper club owners have tried to provide workers with at least a couple of shifts each. It’s not much, but it’s something, Glupker said.
And the Milwaukee woman says she’s ready and willing to work. She even applied for a job at the Department of Workforce Development. With her background in insurance and human resources, Glupker said she knows DWD could desperately use the help.
“I’m a worker I’m a really, really hard, hard worker,” she said. “I would work if I could. I’m not trying to game the system.”
Meanwhile, the big-government incompetence at the agency is stunning.
Glupker said a friend dealing with the same unemployment struggles was told by a DWD agent that he would try to get her claims processed before he went on vacation. He wasn’t making any promises. He said he wouldn’t be back in the office until July 7.
“Why are you even telling people that?” she said. "‘It’s going to be another two weeks before you get any money because you’re not important enough.’ That’s what I hear.”
In another case, an unemployed Uber driver was instructed to mail DWD a package of documents. She overnighted the package, which cost her $40. DWD said they hadn’t received the package and told the claimant to send it again. Another $40.
“That’s food on someone’s table. She couldn’t have emailed it?” Glupker said. Apparently not, but there’s a whole lot of mailing and faxing going on at DWD in the digital age.
DWD leadership has blamed the unemployment insurance debacle on an outdated integrated technology system that the Republican-led legislature could have paid to fix a long time ago. But the myriad complaints from frustrated claimants mostly have to do with procedure problems, leadership problems and people problems.
And for a lot of people who have gone months without help or hope from a dysfunctional state agency, the problems are getting worse.
“I’m 60 years old. This has devastated me,” Glupker said. “How do you recoup that loss when you’re 60 years old?”