DWD to expand hours, contracts help in call center, claims processing to tackle enormous workload during pandemic

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MADISON, Wis. — The state Department of Workforce Development announced Friday that it is expanding its call center hours and has contracted outside help to assist with calls and processing to tackle the enormous workload during the coronavirus pandemic and the related unemployment boom.

DWD said in a news release that it  has secured contracts with three outside vendors to assist more claimants, faster.

From March 15 to May 9, DWD received more than 518,000 unemployment applications and more than 1.8 million weekly claims, the agency said. Since April 21, DWD has received more than 72,000 applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

Two call center vendors and a processing and adjudication vendor will help DWD with the extraordinary number of claims for unemployment benefits coming in during the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.

DWD will extend its call center hours to 7 a.m.to 5 p.m., adding about 2 hours per day. At 5 p.m., call center staff will stop accepting new calls, but will answer all calls remaining in the queue.

Alorica will answer calls related to unemployment benefits. DWD began training more than 55 Alorica staff this week. They’ll be answering calls once they complete a week of accelerated training. When fully staffed, the Alorica call center is expected to have up to 500 work-at-home employees answering calls.

Beyond Vision will employ 40 people handling calls related to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications and is scheduled to open June 1.

About 100 workers at Nelnet will process claims and at least 100 workers will adjudicate claims. Training for Nelnet staff is anticipated to begin June 1.

In addition to the new call centers, DWD is recruiting new employees to fill more than 315 positions. Since the onset of COVID-19, the agency has been reassigning its own employees to the Unemployment Insurance Division and is in the process of receiving additional help from other state agencies to tackle the enormous workload. Between external vendors, new hires, and transfers into UI, approximately 155 staff started the week of May 11, with approximately 230 more expected to start next week.

To further serve Wisconsinites, DWD implemented JARVIS, a chatbot software application for its website. Since the onset of COVID-19, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of calls it receives per day, DWD also receives thousands of emails to its general mailbox. JARVIS assists claimants to locate resources.

With more people using the chatbot to find answers on DWD’s website, DWD can help claimants with more complex issues, the agency said.

State workforce officials said last week that Wisconsin could exhaust its more than $1.8 billion unemployment benefit as early as October.

Nationally, nearly 3 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week as the viral outbreak led more companies to slash jobs.

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