7 MONTHS UNPAID
Amy Stadler had run out of hope.
The 49-year-old West Allis woman was working as an assistant 4-K teacher at a Lutheran school in March of 2020 when the pandemic struck and Governor Tony Evers ordered schools closed and “non-essential” employees to stay home.
She lost her job on March 16. Stadler, like so many other displaced workers, hoped she would be back to work soon. By the end of March it was clear the Evers’ lockdown would go on a lot longer.
Stadler called the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) seeking assistance in filing an unemployment claim. She said she was told by a customer service agent that she “did everything correct” in filing her claim and that she needed to do nothing but wait for a final decision. Her employer had confirmed the loss of her job because of the COVID-19 outbreak and DWD, Stadler was told, had all the proper paperwork.
So, she waited. And waited.
Hearing nothing for weeks, Stadler called and finally connected with another DWD official. She said she was told by the rude claims processor that she hadn’t done everything right, that she needed to keep filing her weekly claims and that she’d have to go back and start all over again.
I thought, ‘Oh, my God. Since I’ve gone through this I haven’t done that.’ But I was told I did everything correct,” Stadler said. “I’m sobbing on the phone with her. She said, ‘I can’t help you,’ and sent me to someone else.”
For the longest time she heard nothing. Not even a letter. Like so many thousands of claimants caught in the dysfunctional claims-processing system, Stadler spent day after day trying to reach someone at DWD.
“I’d get all excited that I’d get through, and then it would hang up on you,” she said. “It would say I had the wrong number or department. I’d finally get through and then there would be nothing but silence.”
A state audit found 93.3 percent of the 41.1 million phone calls made to DWD’s call centers during last year’s flood of unemployment claims were blocked or received busy signals.
As Wisconsin Spotlight first reported, nearly 6,500 Unemployment Insurance claimants had been waiting for the dysfunctional Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to resolve their claims, according to a review by the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Stadler was among that unfortunate universe.
Between the state and federal unemployment benefits Stadler estimated she was owed north of $10,000 in payments. That’s a lot of money for a family of four living on a tight budget. Stadler’s husband, a disabled veteran who suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, works as a pizza delivery driver.
“We were going to rely on the money we were supposed to be getting over the summer,” she said. “If it wasn’t for my parents, I don’t know what we would have done. We would have lost our house.”