MADISON (WKOW) -- Since the coronavirus pandemic lead to mass layoffs and company shutdowns, tens of thousands of Wisconsin workers have sought unemployment insurance.
Last week, the unemployment division of the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD) saw more than 1.5 million calls. On Thursday morning alone, it got 160 calls per second at times.
Program and policy analyst Emily Savard said this has overwhelmed their system which was not built to handle anywhere near this volume.
"We haven't seen anything like it in the history of DWD," she said.
That's why she's asking those filing to be patient as the agency works to accommodate the influx, though she knows that's a tough sell.
"Nobody wants to hear it in times when they're scared or frustrated but it will take a little time for that to happen," Savard said.
Since March 18, Jamie Schoener has been one of those left waiting.
"I have over 450 calls into unemployment," she said. "I just dialed and dialed and dialed and dialed until I got onto the hold list."
When she finally got through, Schoener said she didn't get many answers. She lost her job when salons closed and she said she won't know until April 9, whether or not DWD will approve her for unemployment insurance.
"I have this big question mark for the month of April for where am I going to find money?" she said.
Savard said DWD will try its best to work faster. So far the agency is training new staff members and is working to expand its servers.
This weekend, the agency's website hit its breaking point. She said Sunday was the first day those on unemployment could make their weekly filing.
"It was tens of thousands of people filing at once so the website did slow down, there were some hiccups there but all of those claims were able to be completed," Savard said.
Even as DWD works to increase its website's capacity, Savard said the problem could continue for a while.
"Even though initial claims may either level out or decrease, the weekly claims will now be at the level the initial claims were," she said.
To help she recommends people not rush their weekly claims. They can be filed anytime during the week, not just Sunday and before calling with questions check to see if it's answered in the FAQs published on DWD's website.
As for those left waiting, Schoener said it's getting harder and harder to afford the patience she needs.
"These bills are going to continue to rack up," she said. "I don't know what DWD needs to do but they need to do something. "