Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development call centers answered just one out of every 200 calls from people seeking jobless benefits during a critical early stretch of the pandemic, according to a new state audit that further quantifies the agency’s struggles to serve unemployed Wisconsinites. From mid-March through June, 93.3% of 41.1 million calls were blocked or prompted busy signals, while callers abandoned an additional 6.2% of calls. That means less than 1% of callers reached a DWD representative about their claims, the Legislative Audit Bureau wrote in a report released Friday.
The bureau also found that DWD officials in weekly updates reported incomplete data to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, failing to include millions of calls in which people got busy signals. The audit found that 19.6 million calls were either blocked or resulted in busy signals between late April and the end of June.
The audit comes a week after Gov. Tony Evers ousted Caleb Frostman as DWD secretary, citing an ongoing backlog of unemployment claims that have left jobless residents waiting weeks and even months for aid.
Responding to the audit, Deputy Secretary Robert Cherry accepted the bureau’s recommendations to improve recordkeeping and reporting of call center data, and highlighted the agency’s efforts to shift employees to call centers and expand their capacity during the pandemic.
“Never has the state experienced such an incredible surge in claims so quickly,” Cherry wrote, but added that “lessons should have been learned” about call center vulnerabilities years ago.
A 2014 state audit found that DWD call centers automatically blocked 80% of calls during times of high volume.
For more on the state’s unemployment insurance crisis — and its impact on Wisconsinites — see our series Lives on Hold. Top Stories
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