I am the managing attorney for the unemployment clinic that receives funds from the Pro Bono Trust Fund and for which numerous law students volunteer.
I need to draw your attention to recent developments that could have significantly affected the unemployment clinic. Thanks to prompt action by the Department of Workforce Development ("Department" or "DWD"), however, these issues have been ameliorated. Still, I believe that both of you should be aware of what occurred, and so I am writing about what developed and how the issues were corrected.
For nearly all of the twenty years since the clinic started operations in 1984, the primary mechanism for claimants finding out about the clinic was a flier that the Department included in denied initial determinations mailed to Dane County residents.
In the spring of 2014, however, clinic attendance began declining markedly. In March, the Department of Workforce Development stopped sending to claimants in Dane County the one-page fliers about the unemployment clinic that they previously had received with their initial determinations. Instead, the Department sent out a handout with hearing notices that said to go to a website — http://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uibola/ — for legal resources in unemployment law. There was no obvious description of where legal assistance was available to claimants on this web page. Rather, once at this website, claimants needed to click on the link for how to file an appeal — http://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uibola/appeal.htm. Then, in a small box on the right, they needed to click on a link for legal help for an appeal — http://dwd.wisconsin.gov/dwd/publications/ui/legalhelp.htm. That final link led to a PDF document that had new information about unemployment clinics in Madison and Milwaukee as well as legal assistance available from Legal Action of Wisconsin (see the clinic's website for details about these changes at http://wisconsinuac.blogspot.com/2014/07/handouts-explaining-clinic-resources-no.html). The clinic was never consulted about these changes, and numerous inquiries were needed before this basic information was finally disclosed in July 2014.
Because of this change in the clinic flier, attendance was much reduced. For the 2013-14 reporting period ending on 1 April 2014, 257 appointments were scheduled and nearly 200 of those led to client interviews by law students. These numbers average around 21 appointments a month and 16 client interviews a month (or around 5 appointments and four interviews a week). Based on five months of data (May through September), the clinic averaged 9 appointments a month and 7 client interviews. In September, the clinic started tracking how clients found out about the clinic. Of the 11 clients at the clinic in September (around three per week), only two reported finding out about the clinic through the Department's revamped handout or website.
After several e-mail messages and phone calls, on September 4th clinic attorneys and the United Way's services coordinator met with DWD staffers about the clinic flier no longer being mailed out. Additional e-mail messages and phone calls. Through these efforts, the information the Department included on its website about the clinic as well as the unemployment clinic in Milwaukee and the representation available from Legal Action of Wisconsin was corrected. The Department also agreed to send out its new handout directing claimants to its website earlier in the process — when initial determinations were issued — rather than with the hearing notice, and the Department added the following sentence to its handout: "Free legal help may be available for your appeal, please see http://dwd.wisconsin.gov/dwd/publications/ui/legalhelp.htm."
For the clinic, however, these solutions were inadequate, as clinic attendance did not rebound. A new clinic flier was drafted to meet some of the Department's concerns — that it be smaller to allow for translations into Spanish and Hmong — but the Department appeared to be raising three main objections to mailing a flier with initial determinations: (1) postage costs, (2) unfairness to employers, and (3) a printed flier went against the Department's push for claimants to go on-line.
But, in an October 15th e-mail message the Department informed the clinic that: (1) a full-page legal help flier (available on DWD's website at http://dwd.wisconsin.gov/dwd/publications/ui/legalhelp.htm) has been inserted in the initial determination letters for claimants in Madison and Milwaukee since September 15th; (2) handouts (1/3 page notifying parties that the hearing booklet and that a free legal help flier is available on-line) continue to be placed in the Notice of Hearings from the Madison and Milwaukee Hearing Offices; (3) enough printed legal help fliers had been printed to mail out with initial determinations until the fall of 2015, and that the re-drafted clinic flier will be considered for use then when the flier is updated; (4) postage costs were not an issue with mailing out a clinic flier but rather the initial decision to stop mailing out the flier turned on encouraging party's self-service through obtaining information from on-line resources; and (5) in 2014 (week ending 01/01/14 to week ending 10/04/14), there were 9,523 legal initial determinations mailed to 7,635 claimants residing in Dane county which averages to approximately 238 legal initial determinations and 190 claimant mailings per week.
Because of these changes, in October clinic attendance noticeably improved. The clinic is now averaging more than five appointments and five client interviews per week. Thanks to the steps taken by the Department, the clinic is again providing significant assistance to individuals in unemployment hearings and offering to law students the kind opportunities at litigation only available through the clinic.
So, the clinic very much appreciates the Departments efforts at resolving these issues relating to the flier, and I hope this kind of mutual dialogue between the clinic and the Department can continue.
managing attorney for the clinic
Thursday, October 23, 2014
DWD's re-institution of the flier for the unemployment clinic
Here is a letter from the clinic's managing attorney describing the return of the clinic flier being mailed out to folks in Dane County claiming unemployment benefits: