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As I See It

Wisconsin’s unemployment system wasn’t ready for this

Scott Robert Shaw

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While no one could have predicted the onset of the coronavirus and the economic devastation it has caused, it has become clear that Wisconsin was woefully unprepared to deal with the huge loss of jobs. The State Department of Workforce Development has not been able to keep up with the sudden demand for unemployment benefits. As a result, thousands of people have so far been unable to secure the benefits to which they are entitled, even after going weeks or even months without a paycheck. Since March 15, Workforce Development has seen more than 500,000 applications for unemployment benefits. But we’ve talked to several people in our area who not only haven’t secured their benefits, they can’t even get though to process an application. Some are literally calling hundreds of times a day but the phone just rings or goes dead. The department is getting about 5 million calls a week about 160 per second at the peak. To their credit, Workforce Development is opening a new call center to alleviate the demand, and bringing in workers from other state departments to help. But still, those suffering the most, who lived paycheck to paycheck but have lost their jobs are overwhelming the system that is in place to help them. While we couldn’t have predicted this huge loss of jobs in just a matter of weeks, it is clear the system isn’t doing enough to help those it is designed to help at the time of their greatest need.

Scott Robert Shaw serves as WIZM Program Director and News Director, and delivers the morning news on WKTY, Z-93 and 95.7 The Rock. Scott has been at Mid-West Family La Crosse since 1989, and authors Wisconsin's only daily radio editorial, "As I See It" heard on WIZM each weekday morning and afternoon.

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