Outbreak Wisconsin chronicles people’s journeys through the coronavirus crisis, exposes failing systems and explores solutions.
Madison bartender Amy Moreland has been out of work since mid-March, when the brewery where she worked closed its doors because of the coronavirus. She filed for unemployment, and began receiving $100 per week. It was something, she said, but not enough to pay her $1,000 monthly rent bill.
The federal CARES Act stimulus package, passed more than a month ago, includes an extra $600 per week for people receiving unemployment benefits. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development began distributing the extra money the last week of April, with the expectation that it would take until May 8 to pay everyone.
Moreland narrated her anxious wait for federal help in a series of audio diaries.
“I am trying to control the things that I can control, but I’m frustrated,” she said on April 29.
At that point, some of Moreland’s friends in other states told her they had received the $600, and she wondered whether she would ever receive the extra federal benefits.
Moreland had already used about $1,000 in savings, completely draining her account, plus her $1,200 stimulus check to pay rent through July. It gave her some breathing room, she said.
“I’ve said time and time again that I feel lucky in my situation even though I’m extremely poor,” she said. Still, she was frustrated with the process.
“There’s so many questions that I have about unemployment, but there’s no way to talk to anyone,” she said. “I’ve been on hold for 8 hours before, and then just kicked off.”
The state Department of Workforce Development is handling more than 300,000 unemployment claims per week, and it projects that its unemployment insurance fund could run out of money as early as October if claims continue at that current pace. If that happens, the state could borrow from the federal government in order to pay benefits, which it did during the great recession.
On May 5, Moreland received her first $600 payment. She was excited, almost giggling as she detailed plans to pay her internet bill and buy groceries.
“Day 54 and finally some financial relief,” she said, counting the days since her quarantine began.
The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (wisconsinwatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.