(Photo provided)
(Photo provided)

Caleb Frostman resigns Friday at governor’s request.

Gov. Tony Evers on Friday asked for and received the resignation of Caleb Frostman, the secretary of the agency responsible for processing unemployment insurance claims. Claims filed reached record levels due to the job losses associated with the coronavirus pandemic, with the backlog of claims topping 700,000 at one point. 

Frostman’s resignation from the state Department of Workforce Development, which essentially amounts to a firing by Evers, takes effect immediately. State Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary Amy Pechacek has been appointed to lead the transition until a new secretary is appointed, according to a statement from Ever’s office. 

The call by Evers for Frostman’s resignation comes as 3,000 residents are still waiting on unemployment checks since March and another 100,000 are waiting to hear whether they qualify for benefits. 

State officials have said they have been working through staffing and budget issues, a computer system still using 1960s-era programming, information issues about whether claimants were eligible for unemployment benefits, and the refusal of the Republican-led Legislature to meet and consider proposals for improving claims handling. 

But Evers said Friday new leadership is needed.

“People across our state are struggling to make ends meet, and it is unacceptable that Wisconsinites continue to wait for the support they need during these challenging times,” said Evers Friday in a statement. 

Caleb said in his resignation letter that he felt his work was “incomplete.”

“Of course, I feel like my work is incomplete, but I feel confident that the dedicated, professional team at DWD will continue serving Wisconsin’s workforce through adversity and under immense pressure, including assisting the hundreds of thousands who are out of work through no fault of their own,” Frostman said in a letter dated Friday, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The agency has been under fire since the number of unemployment claims drastically increased in volume and the agency proved unable to process them fast enough.  

By the end of May, roughly 2.3 million claims had been filed by state residents since March 15, several days after Evers declared a public health emergency. On May 27, the GOP-led Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform held an information meeting to discuss what had by then ballooned to a backlog of 728,000 claims. 

The hearing led to no Legislative action to fix the DWD’s outdated processing system, which an audit conducted in the 2013-2014 fiscal year showed to be struggling with backlogs seven years ago while Republicans were heading every level of government.

“Let’s remember for the past 10 years Republicans have controlled the purse strings, controlled the Legislature and controlled the Joint Finance Committee,” said Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Somers), a committee member on the day of the hearing. “Yet nothing was done to update that antiquated technology.” 

Evers also faulted years’ worth of Republican inaction in his statement on Frostman’s resignation.

“It is clear that our unemployment system has faced historic levels of claims these past few months, hindered in part by antiquated technology we inherited, and processes designed by Republicans to make it harder for folks to get these benefits,” he said. 

Since the pandemic began and claims began to rise, more than 130 DWD employees have been reassigned to the Unemployment Insurance Division. In total, the DWD now has more than 1,500 individuals working on unemployment insurance cases. This is a 250 percent increase from the 600 individuals who previously worked for the division. 

“We have continued to add additional state resources to support the DWD, but it is clear that we must have change if we are going to address these problems to get folks their benefits faster,” said Evers in the statement.

Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) said in a tweet that “this should have happened months ago if Evers was actually tuned in to the Wisconsin workforce.”

“The big question is will anything actually change or is this a desperate move by [Evers] to seem like he is trying to fix the UI backlog,” said Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, in a tweet. 

Frostman, a Green Bay native, was appointed by Evers to the position in January 2019. Prior to his appointment, he served as the Democratic State Senator for Wisconsin’s 1st District.  He also served as executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corp.