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‘It’s so overwhelming.’ People frustrated with wait to file for unemployment

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Without internet and tired of waiting on hold, Shamika White decided to try her luck in person, walking up to the Dane County Jobs Center Wednesday. It was closed as a public health precaution.

Signs outside the building encouraged people to either apply for unemployment benefits online or to be patient should they try to reach someone by phone.

"I can't do it over the phone cause the lines are super busy," White said. "Unemployment claim, just trying to get to the job center period. It's so overwhelming."

The Department of Workforce Development is asking anyone trying to file for unemployment to apply online if they have access to the internet. Secretary Caleb Frostman said his agency is aware of the problems people are having trying to get through and noted, in the wake of Governor Evers' "safer at home" order, the volume of applications is far greater than anything the agency has ever seen before.

"We're seeing 75% higher volumes than during the height of the Great Recession, so this really unprecedented territory for us," Frostman said.

Preliminary numbers from the DWD show 21,250 people applied on Monday for unemployment. Tuesday's figure was 18,638. For the same two-day period last year, fewer than 3,000 people had applied.

Frostman said the DWD is responding to the surge in demand by doubling the size of its staff in the call center, starting Wednesday. He said the agency is also making how-to videos to walk people through the process of applying online. The DWD expects to have those videos uploaded either Thursday or Friday.

When a 27 News reporter tried calling the number shared by the DWD Wednesday, he got a busy signal each time.

"There will still be folks who will likely experience busy signals. Like I said, this is uncharted territory for us," Frostman said, "We've got folks working really hard but, with the doubling, we're hoping the wait times reduce."

Frostman added the agency was cross-training employees in other departments to help process unemployment claims. He said the DWD would also likely be posting additional jobs to beef up the call center.

White said she needs to get through and have some kind of aid soon. She said layoffs have left her working two days a week at most - not nearly enough to keep feeding her four children.

"I have kids. They're out of school. It's overwhelming and no money. You don't know how to even go to the grocery store or anything," White said. "It's just hard."

A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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