DWD attempts to mitigate call backlog

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development continues to receive high numbers of callers...
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development continues to receive high numbers of callers everyday. NBC15 asked them what they're doing to handle that influx in phone calls.(NBC15)
Published: Apr. 2, 2020 at 5:44 PM CDT
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At times, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is facing 150 calls per second as the number of unemployment claims skyrockets.

"Well, I've been trying for 8 or 9 days now to get through," Mike Ciaramita said as he described his experience trying to file for unemployment.

Ciaramita lost his job at the YMCA last week and has been trying to file for unemployment ever since.

"The only reason I have to call is because I tried going online and setting up my claim and it kicks me back to this page that I have to call,” Ciaramita said.

Due to the high call volume, the department of workforce development is urging people to make their claims online.

"You have to put in an e-mail and a password, and it says they're looking for more information and gives you two numbers to call,” Ciaramita said. “You can't get through to either one."

"Instead of having you call us, we've assigned eight claims specialists to make outgoing calls to those folks," Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development Caleb Frostman said.

Frostman said they made that switch late last week. He said about 98% of the 20,000 claims the DWD receives every day can be filed online.

Those outgoing callers are for the hundreds of people who need more help.

"Over the weekend, we were able to answer 400 questions from folks," Frostman said.

NBC15 asked Ciaramita if knowing that there’s now a group of people who are starting to make outgoing calls to those who have hit the online road block.

"Yeah, I guess that's some help, but they're not going to get to me because they don't have my name or phone number because it kicks me to a page right after I sign in, so I haven't filled out any of the application, so they're not going to be calling me back. I just can't go any further."

The department has added around 75 new people to answer phones.

NBC15 also reached out to DWD and asked some questions posed by viewers. Here are their answers:

1) QUESTION: Have you thought about extending/staggering your hours for phone workers so there's a longer period of time that people can call?

ANSWER: We are thinking of a variety of ways to address the telephone issues and extending hours is an idea we are considering. However, it would not solve the problem of callers being unable to get through due to the sheer volume of calls happening.

Please note, our staff are not done with the phones at 3:30 p.m.; that is simply the last time incoming calls are accepted. The period of time between 3:30 p.m. and the end of their day is needed to "clear the queue"- speaking with those who are in the hold queue as of 3:30 p.m.

2) QUESTION: Can you look in to the DWD and [tell them] that their phones come up as out of service, or if you do get in the message, it says they have reached the max on hold and then your call gets disconnected?

ANSWER: We are aware of this. We had over 1.5 million incoming calls last week; the infrastructure cannot handle that amount of calls.

3) QUESTION: While you are required to quarantine, if you are exposed or have [COVID-19], how can you get unemployment if you are sick or could be sick? People should have this answered as I am worried people will just go to work. Just a question as I am sure a lot of people are wondering this? Wisconsin unemployment site very unclear.

ANSWER: Each situation is unique. Perhaps these scenarios will help.

To be eligible for unemployment, a claimant must be able and available for work. If someone is filing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are considered able and available for work if:

-They are not working because their employer is closed due to COVID-19 pandemic and they remain available to work.

-They were sent home by their employer to isolate (quarantine) but they feel well enough to work.

-They were told to isolate (quarantine) by a medical professional or government official but they feel well enough to work.

-They are not working because their employer is closed due to COVID-19 pandemic and they are taking care of children because school or daycare is closed. However, they could find childcare and work if their employer had work for them.

4) QUESTION: Some people have received notices that say they need to contact the DWD within 5 days or their claim will be denied, but they have issues contacting the call center, or are calling a number that says it's out of service.

ANSWER: This message occurs in a particular circumstance when a person is unable to complete their claim online and must be in contact the help center. The messaging for this particular scenario impacting a small number of people is a pre-COVID-19 holdover and we're working on updating it.