Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit newsroom that focuses on government integrity and quality of life issues, and we always provide our news for free.
You can read all of our coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage by signing up for our Wisconsin COVID-19 Update newsletter, and please consider becoming a member to support our nonprofit journalism.
Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development call centers answered just one out of every 200 calls from people seeking jobless benefits during a critical early stretch of the pandemic, according to a new state audit that further quantifies the agency’s struggles to serve unemployed Wisconsinites.
From mid-March through June, 93.3% of 41.1 million calls were blocked or prompted busy signals, while callers abandoned an additional 6.2% of calls. That means less than 1% of callers reached a DWD representative about their claims, the Legislative Audit Bureau wrote in a report released Friday.
The bureau also found that DWD officials in weekly updates reported incomplete data to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, failing to include millions of calls in which people got busy signals. The audit found that 19.6 million calls were either blocked or resulted in busy signals between late April and the end of June.
The audit comes a week after Gov. Tony Evers ousted Caleb Frostman as DWD secretary, citing an ongoing backlog of unemployment claims that have left jobless residents waiting weeks and even months for aid.
Responding to the audit, Deputy Secretary Robert Cherry accepted the bureau’s recommendations to improve recordkeeping and reporting of call center data, and highlighted the agency’s efforts to shift employees to call centers and expand their capacity during the pandemic.
“Never has the state experienced such an incredible surge in claims so quickly,” Cherry wrote, but added that “lessons should have been learned” about call center vulnerabilities years ago.
A 2014 state audit found that DWD call centers automatically blocked 80% of calls during times of high volume.
For more on the state’s unemployment insurance crisis — and its impact on Wisconsinites — see our series Lives on Hold.
Less than 1% of calls to state unemployment call centers were answered, audit shows — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin nursing homes report 271 COVID-19 deaths — Wisconsin State Journal
COVID-19 treatment costs about $14,500 per person, new study says — Wisconsin State Journal
‘No reason’ COVID testing should be down in Wisconsin, federal testing boss says, as cases keep climbing — Appleton Post-Crescent
Homeless encampments in Madison parks signal worsening housing crisis ahead — Cap Times
Brown County hospitals nearly overwhelmed as leaders warn people not to ‘throw in the towel’ on COVID-19 safety — Green Bay Press-Gazette
Ascension Wisconsin hospitals in Fox Valley will suspend in-person visitation due to COVID-19 starting Sept. 28 — Appleton Post-Crescent
What are we missing? And how are you coping? Help us provide critical information and accountability by filling out this form or emailing us at email@example.com.
Food access trouble?
We know that when classes are virtual, many Wisconsin students and families lose access to food schools provide. And as the school year starts, some meal sites are closing. Share your experience with News414, Wisconsin Watch’s service journalism collaboration with Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and Outlier Media. Click here for details.
You can also view a list of Milwaukee-area food distribution sites for students here.
Data to note
Wisconsin on Friday set a record for daily COVID-19 hospitalizations for the fourth straight day as cases continue to surge statewide.
Here is the latest data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
People helping others and showing resilience during this time of anxiety. Send suggestions by tagging us on social media — @wisconsinwatch — or emailing us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five churches complete mission to clear millions in medical debt for more than 1,000 households in Minnesota and Wisconsin — Presbyterian News Service
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.