Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance system has failed to deliver for thousands of residents at a time when they most need it, leaving many to miss bill payments, rack up new credit card debt, lean on food pantries and face eviction. Wisconsinites who have had trouble with the system include, clockwise from upper left: David Ficke, Chenon Times-Rainwater, Melissa Minkoff, Belinda Bickford, Alysha Brooks, and Adriana Patino. Credit: Provided photos
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Thousands wait for unemployment aid; court limits WI early, absentee voting; LGBTQ celebration highlighted; state targets broadband, job training to meet COVID-19 challenge


Of note: This week we highlight unemployed Wisconsinites struggling as they wait weeks to receive government assistance. WPR/Wisconsin Watch reporter Bram Sable-Smith talked to 16 jobless residents, including welder David Ficke, who found himself living out of his minivan after he ran out of money waiting for Wisconsin to issue his unemployment benefits. Sable-Smith found the agency tasked with paying claims was understaffed and hobbled by an ancient computer system breaking under the strain of millions of jobless claims.

Access to some stories listed in the Wisconsin Weekly roundup may be limited to subscribers of the news organizations that produced them. We urge our readers to consider supporting these important news outlets by subscribing. 

Want even more news about how the pandemic is reshaping the state? Subscribe to our Wisconsin COVID-19 Update.

Thanks for reading!

To have the free Wisconsin Weekly newsletter (as well as story alerts and news about the Center) delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here! You can change your preferences at any time


Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance system has failed to deliver for thousands of residents at a time when they most need it, leaving many to miss bill payments, rack up new credit card debt, lean on food pantries and face eviction. Wisconsinites who have had trouble with the system include, clockwise from upper left: David Ficke, Chenon Times-Rainwater, Melissa Minkoff, Belinda Bickford, Alysha Brooks, and Adriana Patino. Credit: Provided photos

Lives on hold: Pandemic exposes failures of Wisconsin unemployment insurance system

Wisconsin Watch — June 29, 2020

Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance system has failed to deliver for thousands of residents at a time when they most need it, leaving many to miss bill payments, rack up new credit card debt, lean on food pantries and face eviction — even homelessness. The crisis was years in the making. 

Alfreida Casterlow lost her job in April with Northwestern Mutual, which she held through the staffing agency Kforce. She immediately applied for unemployment, but has been waiting since April 24 for an adjudicator with the state Department of Workforce Development to resolve her claim. She currently owes more than $2,000 in back rent and late fees. She has no guarantee her unemployment claim will be approved, though a recent call gave her hope. She is seen near her home in Milwaukee on June 23, 2020. Credit: Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

As the nation reckons with race, a mother awaits unemployment aid — and Wisconsin officials lack research

Wisconsin Watch — June 30, 2020

Alfreida Casterlow could hardly bear her first weeks working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. Disrupted routines upset her 20-year-old autistic daughter. Casterlow, 43, would try to keep her daughter engaged. She would lie alongside her, rubbing her forehead to soothe her — all while continuing to operate switchboards for Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee. Then she lost her job.

Demonstrators at the Pride for Black Lives event march in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. June is LGBTQ Pride month, and this year it was also a time of reckoning over racial injustice and police misconduct as nationwide protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Pride for Black lives: Intersectionality celebrated in Madison during LGBTQ Pride month

Wisconsin Watch — June 30, 2020

June is LGBTQ Pride month, and this year it was also a time of reckoning over racial injustice and police misconduct as nationwide protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Appeals court limits Wisconsin early voting to 2 weeks before election, stops voters from receiving ballots via email, fax

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — June 29, 2020

In a sweeping decision that took more than three years to come out, a panel of federal judges on Monday reinstated limits on early voting and a requirement that voters be Wisconsin residents for at least a month before an election. The three judges also banned most voters from having absentee ballots emailed or faxed to them and told a lower court to continue to tweak the system the state uses to provide voting credentials to those who have the most difficulty getting photo IDs.

Melissa Hughes, CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Credit: Michelle Stocker / Wisconsin State Journal

WEDC proposes broadband upgrades, training incentives in report on COVID’s impact

Wisconsin State Journal  — July 1, 2020

A new report from the state’s top economic development agency recommends Wisconsin rebuild its economy by increasing training opportunities for the unemployed, expanding statewide broadband, and supporting new businesses and startups.

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.

The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.