Audit Shows Almost All Unemployment Calls to State Agency Went Unanswered

By Will Kenneally

September 25, 2020

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The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development logo over an image of a phone.

Fewer than 1 in 100 calls to the Department of Workforce Development’s unemployment insurance call centers were answered, according to a report from the Legislative Audit Bureau.

The audit details 93.3% received busy signals or had the calls blocked while trying to call the agency. Another 6.2% of calls were abandoned before they reached the call centers. Only 0.5% of calls made it through.

This comes a week after Gov. Tony Evers asked for DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman’s resignation. Frostman received sharp criticism for long wait times for unemployment benefits, and as of mid-September, 713,508 weekly claims were still being processed.

This came as the agency received more than 40 million calls from mid-March through the end of June. Since March, DWD received 6.5 million unemployment claims.

“DWD continues to work to overcome the unique challenges presented throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and is committed to continuous improvement to better serve Wisconsin residents,” said Amy Pechacek, who is leading the department temporarily.

As part of its report, the audit bureau made a series of recommendations to the agency, including reporting the number of calls that did not reach call centers to the Legislative Audit Committee and require third-party call centers provide reports on how they meet contractual obligations.

“We appreciate the Legislative Audit Bureau’s review and recommendations provided through this audit, which will improve the transparency and oversight of UI operations both during and after this public health emergency,” Pechacek said in a statement.

The news Friday renewed criticisms from Republican legislators.

“During the most critical and desperate time facing Wisconsin citizens, [Evers] and his administration failed,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wrote.

Pechacek said that since July, the department has increased telephone capacity and call center staffing which has helped nearly all calls make it through to call centers.

As of mid-September, more than $3.68 billion has been paid to more than 500,000 Wisconsinites seeking unemployment benefits since March.

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