‘A lot of people are starting to struggle’: Gig-workers, self-employed await PUA payments as DWD begins determinations

MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development began making determinations on its more than 80,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims Thursday, with plans to roll out the first of the payments for workers who wouldn’t qualify for traditional unemployment insurance benefits late this week.

Many of those workers, like hair stylist Toni Tiberi, have been waiting for those payments for months.

Since being forced to close up shop at her salon because of the pandemic, Tiberi has had more time to herself, being able to take advantage of her front porch.

“It’s a nice calming place to be,” she said.Toni's porch

That’s a feeling that can be hard to come by during the pandemic, especially with frustrations stemming from unemployment benefits, as Tiberi and her hair stylist friends go without pay as they continue their 10-week wait for word on their PUA benefits.

“A lot of people are starting to struggle,” she said. “It’s painful and very frustrating with the lack of communication.”

Afton resident Jessica Saynor has been hoping for more communication from the unemployment department, as well.

“The silence is what’s frustrating,” Saynor said.

News 3 Now spoke with Saynor for a news story in early April as she searched for answers on her pending unemployment benefits claims. She’s now been waiting for 11 weeks for a determination.

“At this point, I’ve kind of given up as well on anything,” Saynor said. “Bankruptcy’s on the horizon.”

Saynor’s situation is a bit unique, since she had a job offer rescinded because of the pandemic, so she may not qualify for traditional unemployment. She’s unable, however, to see if she qualifies for PUA until her claim is addressed. She joins many others whose wait for a determination continues.

“I understand,” said Emily Savard with the DWD’s unemployment department. “They will receive back payment (that they’re eligible for) when we do get to that.”

Savard said staff members are working through the more than 80,000 PUA claims, rolling the first out by the end of the week. She wasn’t able to say how many will get their money this week, or how long the whole process will take.

“The ball is rolling,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that the programming was done correctly, and so we had a couple additional days of programming put in there to make sure there weren’t any problems.”

Savard understands workers are running out of patience, adding that “we’re doing the best we can.”

ToniTiberi worries workers are running out of money. She’s getting back to the salon soon, and that means expensive additions to keep her clients safe.

“It all adds up,” Tiberi said. “For us still not to get anything and was promised that ten weeks ago is not, not, not OK.”


Savard said the DWD’s new call center got up and running Wednesday with several dozen new workers. In June, it will have 500 new workers helping callers with unemployment insurance benefits issues.

According to Savard, the DWD is learning lessons and making changes so they’re more prepared if something similar were to happen in the future.

“Fingers crossed this doesn’t happen again, but if it does, we have these additional plans and measures in place,” she said.