The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is working nights and weekends to cut down the backlog of unemployment claims and take the calls of thousands who find themselves unemployed for the first time during this pandemic.
DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said the department is working as hard as they can to address the issues, but it will take until June to get reinforcements fully operational.
"The sheer volume of claims that we've seen, the technology issues that we've had to overcome and you know getting the staff on board, the resources in place, the infrastructure," Frostman said. "You know hopefully we can attack that backlog efficiently."
TMJ4 viewers took to our Facebook page trying to get answers, some with cases that have been pending since mid-March. Others said they waited hours on the phone to get answers, and the calls were dropped or they got a busy signal.
Frostman said the average wait time to get through on the phone is an hour and 10 minutes.
"We want to process claims as fast as possible but also make sure that folks feel heard, get their questions answered because the anxiety around all things COVID including the economic pieces are really affecting people so that’s really affecting us," Frostman said.
Frostman said they nearly doubled their call center staff to handle the amount of calls from about 57 employees to 100. He adds they are working on hiring more people and getting a 500-person call center open to take unemployment calls, which they hope will be fully operational by June.
"Obviously we want to front load this thing to get ahead of the curve and get the surge in there sooner but with the security concerns with PII (personally identifiable information) and other pieces involved in the hiring process it's gonna be probably early to mid June before we have everyone on board," Frostman said.
Training for some new hires is expected to start as soon as next week.
Many viewers told us they still haven't received the $600 a week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation from the CARES Act passed back in March.
Frostman said the delays were due in part to the stress the extra payments put on Wisconsin's half a century old system.
"A big part of the issue is we have a 50-year-old mainframe base benefit system and so adding new federal programs to this 50-year-old base is really challenging," Frostman said. "Last week due in part to the really old technology we have we did have an IT malfunction which had some errors in it. We have since fixed that and started making back payments again."
He said the DWD has started making those weekly payments, and they are currently addressing the backlog of ones they missed in the last month.