In a nonpartisan audit of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development released Friday, over 90 percent of the calls made to call centers were blocked or received busy signals.
A Legislative Audit Bureau audit of the DWD's management of the unemployment insurance program's call centers found that from March 15 through June 30, 38.3 million of the 41.1 million phone calls (93.3 percent) made to DWD call centers were either blocked or received a busy signal.
The audit said 6.2 percent of the calls were abandoned by the people attempting to call the centers and only 0.5 percent of calls were answered.
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DWD Deputy Secretary Rob Cherry responded to the audit's results, stating that the DWD has made improvements to operations while still working with "antiquated technology and limited trained personnel."
"As reflected in your report, the COVID-19 pandemic and the efforts to slow the spread of this deadly virus triggered historic numbers of claims in a matter of weeks. Never has the state experienced such an incredible surge in claims so quickly. During previous economic downturns, claims slowly increased over time," said Cherry in a letter. "For instance, during the Great Recession, Wisconsin's highest weekly Regular UI claim total, approximately 195,000 claims, occurred in January 2010, three years after the recession began. It was within just six weeks of COVID-19 when we saw a peak of approximately 321,000 weekly claims made this year."
The audit said that DWD had increased its call center staff from 90 to 188 and contractually required one entity to provide 500 full-time staff members for a call center in May. The audit found that those positions were not working in the call center until the week of July 19.
On average, a caller waited on hold for 52.2 minutes before speaking with someone at the call center and on average spoke with a call center representative for 11 minutes.
“The spike in calls and initial claims that preceded the Governor’s shutdown was a clear forecast of the tsunami of calls and claims that DWD should have absolutely been able to expect when the stay-at-home order was issued,” said Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem Lakes). “This was an unprecedented event, granted, but the anguish and unanswered questions of hundreds of thousands [of] unemployed Wisconsin workers could have been mitigated had the Department acted quickly to adapt to a known need.”
Earlier this month, Gov. Tony Evers requested and received the resignation of DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman. Evers cited significant delays in processing unemployment claims amid the pandemic. DWD is in charge of that process.
To view the entire audit, click here.