September 21, 2020
It’s been six months since Gov. Evers’ economic shutdown orders threw hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents out of work, and DWD is still buried in unprocessed unemployment claims. On Friday, Evers had had enough and fired DWD Sec. Caleb Frostman for failing to get the situation under control.
Public records, highlighted in MacIver News reports, show Frostman failed to take any meaningful actions to address the crisis from the start. In fact, some of his decisions made things even worse. Over the past six months, MacIver has documented and covered many of these problems.
1. Shutting down the job center computer centers. DWD did not have enough employees or phones lines to process all the claims over the phone. People were encouraged to file online, but not everyone has a computer. In the past, many people out of work would go to the job centers to use their computer labs. Frostman shut down the job centers and computer labs in March.
2. Failure to staff. The 57 people on DWD’s unemployment claims staff couldn’t handle the call volume. DWD has 1,606 employees, but Frostman resisted reassigning them to help. Over the first few weeks, he only transferred 150 employees to help with the phones. DWD also only had so many lines, which meant many unemployed workers didn’t even have the option to wait on hold. It took months to hire call centers to expand capabilities.
3. Regular business hours. Normally, people can file unemployment claims from Monday through Friday from 7:30 – 3:30. Frostman waited two months before directing staff to extend those hours to 5:00 each day. Still only Monday through Friday.
4. Questionable Leadership. During the first month of the crisis, Frostman’s emails reveal a curious leadership style. He never provided any goals, direction, intent, coordination or even encouragement to his employees at DWD. He only sent out five emails during that time period about unemployment claims. When told about the tsunami of new unemployment numbers, Frostman’s response over email was simply “wowzers.”
5. Lack of empathy. Only a couple individual pleas for help reached Frostman’s inbox. One woman begging for her benefits said she had to choose between paying for rent or groceries. Frostman passed it off to a staff member, who told the woman she had to wait 21 “business” days – not “calendar” days for her check. Frostman thanked the staff member for handling the situation so well.
Getting rid of Frostman will not solve DWD’s problems. It will soon face a new unemployment benefits crisis. In May, the department warned the trust fund would run dry by Oct. 11th. That’s just three weeks away.