Amy Moreland is seen on the balcony of her apartment in Madison, Wis., on Jan. 29, 2021. Moreland received unemployment aid after losing her job as a bartender and events coordinator due to the pandemic. She briefly returned to work during the summer when bars opened for outdoor seating, but she was again laid off in November as cold weather arrived. After she applied a second time for compensation, her account was locked for possible fraud, and she waited 13 weeks for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to verify her identity. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch
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Outbreak Wisconsin chronicles people’s journeys through the coronavirus crisis, exposes failing systems and explores solutions.

Read more stories about Amy Moreland in this series, produced in collaboration with WPR.

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Listen to Amy Moreland’s fifth audio diary, produced by Bridgit Bowden for WPR.

When Madison bartender Amy Moreland was first laid off in mid-March, she expected to be jobless for a few weeks, maybe a month. She did not predict the COVID-19 pandemic to rage for so long. 

“I don’t think anybody knew, really,” she said. 

One Barrel Brewing briefly rehired Moreland during the summer when it opened to outdoor seating. But winter’s arrival triggered another layoff. 

“There’s just not very much hiring right now,” she said. 

Amy Moreland is seen in her apartment in Madison, Wis., on Jan. 29, 2021. Moreland, who used to work in Madison’s service industry, is now enrolled in a social work program at Madison College and hopes to specialize in addiction issues. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Moreland has since relied mostly on state unemployment insurance — an aid system she and thousands of others have struggled to navigate. She spent nearly two months last spring waiting for the state to deliver extra CARES Act relief she was owed. And the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development has since placed a months-long hold on her account due to a problem verifying her identity, she said. 

With few prospects for a new service industry job, Moreland began pursuing a new career. She enrolled at Madison College, aiming to earn a degree in social work. 

Starting over felt bittersweet, considering her trajectory before the pandemic: She planned to build a service industry career and had just accepted a promotion to events coordinator.   

“I do really love working in the service industry, I mean I’ve done it for 15 years,” she said. “I love working hard and making … you make the amount of money based on how hard you work.” 

Moreland isn’t sure when — or if — that  industry will fully spring back to life in Madison. So she’s moving on. 

Moreland began online classes in January. She hopes to use a degree and her life experience to become an addiction counselor. The self-described recovered alcoholic says the pandemic has offered her new perspective on sobriety. 

“It’s been even really hard for me, because this time has been so stressful, and just honestly so sad,” she said. 

“I’m trying my best,” she added. “I just want to help people and help people try their best.”

Still, the rollout of vaccines has offered fresh hope that the pandemic will eventually end. 

“It’s a scary transition,” she said. “Maybe brighter skies are ahead.” 

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.

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Bridgit Bowden / Wisconsin Public Radio

Bridgit Bowden is the special projects reporter at Wisconsin Public Radio. Previously, she was the Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow at WisconsinWatch.