Wisconsin unemployment audit shows less than 1% of calls answered

Less than 1% of Wisconsinites who called the state Department of Workforce Development’s call centers seeking unemployment insurance between March 15 and June 30 actually had their phone calls answered, a new state audit reports.

The audit, released Friday by the Legislative Audit Bureau, found that, of the 41.1 million total telephone calls received by DWD call centers over the three-and-a-half month span, only 0.5% ultimately were answered. More than 93%, or 38.3 million calls, were blocked or met with busy signals, while another 6.2% of callers hung up before receiving an answer.

The number of Wisconsinites seeking unemployment insurance skyrocketed earlier this year as businesses shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, Gov. Tony Evers fired DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman for persistent delays in the processing of unemployment claims, though he didn’t mention the audit findings, which are typically shared with agencies in advance of their official publication.

Frostman’s firing followed months of criticism from state Republicans over the department’s persistent backlog of unprocessed claims.

Amy Pechacek, who was appointed to lead the transition until a new DWD secretary is appointed, said in a statement on Friday that the department continues to work through the challenges presented by the pandemic. Pechacek said the audit should result in better transparency and oversight of unemployment insurance operations.

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