Only 0.5% of calls to DWD unemployment insurance call centers were answered from mid-March to late June

MADISON, Wis. — Department of Workforce Development unemployment insurance call center workers only answered 0.5% of the 41.1 million phone calls made to the department from March 15 to June 30.

In total, call center workers answered 225,864 calls during that time period, according to a newly released report from the Legislative Audit Buearu.

According to new DWD statistics, 38.3 million, about 93.3%, of the total phone calls to DWD’s two call centers were blocked or received busy signals. An additional 6.2% of callers abandoned their calls before speaking with someone at a call center.

In a statement released shortly after the LAB report was released, co-chairs of the Wisconsin State Legislature Joint Audit Committee Sen. Robert Cowles and Rep. Samantha Kerkman said DWD began reporting in May the number of calls that were blocked, abandoned and answered, but did not report the number of calls that received busy signals.

“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 unemployed Wisconsin workers could have been mitigated had the Department acted quickly to adapt to a known need.”

The DWD operates one call center, and two more are operated by outside entities under a contract with the DWD.

Former DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman resigned last week at the request of Gov. Tony Evers. DWD has struggled to process a backlog of unemployment claims since the coronavirus pandemic began.

DWD Transition Director Amy Pechacek said Friday that the department’s “antiquated IT system hamstrung DWD’s ability to quickly implement new changes and programs, which prompted even more calls and questions into the UI help center.”