MILWAUKEE -- It's a call for help that has (literally) gone unanswered.
In the last week, 16 different people called and emailed FOX6 News saying they couldn't figure out why their unemployment claims were denied; when they tried to take their questions to the state Department of Workforce Development, they were met with busy phone lines and unanswered emails.
"I don’t know what the issue is," Keith Dall said. Dall showed FOX6 News a letter he received, saying his unemployment claim was denied because he did not register for work with Wisconsin Job Service in the required timeframe.
Typically, receiving unemployment benefits is conditional upon completing a work search. Governor Tony Evers waived that requirement on March 18, acknowledging that it would not be possible for many to job hunt while everything is shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dall didn't understand why he was receiving the unemployment denial letter if the work search requirement had been waived. He tried to get answers, but wasn't getting anywhere.
"Obviously the phone lines are very tied up with them so I can’t get a hold of anyone there," said Dall, referring to the Department of Workforce Development, which handles unemployment claims in Wisconsin. "So I’m really not sure where I’m at in this process here."
"I’m trying to be understanding of the situation that they’re also in," he continued. "They’re backed up and they got a lot to do. But at the same time, we have our own concerns and you kind of wonder how many other people are having this problem."
"We’re not able to talk to anybody about it," said Michelle Boegel, who received the same letter. "And that’s why I called you."
"The work search is considered satisfied during the emergency order," Tyler Tichenor, Department of Workforce Development spokesperson, emailed FOX6. "There are no situations where a claimant would need to perform a work search during the emergency order."
"There are no payments being held due to work search issues," said Tichenor.
Although claimants do not need to perform the work search, Tichenor says state law and federal rules require them to still upload a resume and complete the registration process with Wisconsin Job Service.
"I think that’s a little bit ridiculous," said Jenna Teer, a dental assistant who has been trying to file unemployment claims. "Why would I be looking for a job at this time?"
Teer was able to complete the registration process, but still has not received her unemployment checks.
"To fill out a resume even though you know you’re not going to be looking for work is a waste of time, a lot of red tape," Teer said.
Teer worries that unnecessary extra steps are further complicating Wisconsin's already overwhelmed system. FOX6 has received hundreds of emails and phone calls from people who have been unable to file claims due to a glitching website and busy phone lines. The Department of Workforce Development has said it's trying to hire more workers and expand server space to accommodate the unprecedented influx of unemployment claims.
In the meantime, people have been waiting for their checks for weeks.
"I don't have an income," Michelle Boegel said. "I haven't been able to make a car payment. It's ridiculous."
What can you do?
If you believe your unemployment claim has been improperly denied, you have the ability to appeal. Tichenor says the Department of Workforce Development can backdate claims that expire when issues take a long time to resolve.
If your claim requires you to speak to a DWD help center representative, Tichenor says you will be put on a list and someone from the help center will call you within five business days.
"They generally say it's about five days before they get a hold of you," Keith Dall said. "It's been well over a week. I’m just kind of stuck where I’m at right now and just kind of wondering what’s going to continue forward."