By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Unemployed Wisconsinites have complained about the state Department of Workforce Development’s lack of humanity during the state’s unemployment crisis. Audits have shown just how dysfunctional and disconnected Gov. Tony Evers’ DWD has been.
Despite administration claims that things are improving, a DWD employee says the disconnect continues thanks in large part to Evers’ state government lockdown.
The agency continues to require staff to work remotely “unless otherwise authorized and necessary” to meet “Mission Essential Functions.”
The DWD employee, who works at a Job Center, says a year after the pandemic struck and Evers shut down state buildings to the public, Workforce Development offices are finally starting to re-open, but on a very limited basis.
“The DWD is finally open very part time, however we can only do very limited things,” the source, who asked not to be identified wrote in an email. The state employee works at a DWD Job Center.
While the offices may be slowly reopening, it appears managers are doing all they can to keep the jobless out.
In an email obtained by Empower Wisconsin, Renee Kemp, DWD Lead Employment & Training Specialist, reminds staff what they cannot do.
“As a reminder and to reiterate we are not providing in-person/hands-on customer assistance at this time,” Kemp wrote in the email, sent Monday morning. Specifically, she added, jobseekers looking for help with their resumes are to be referred to the agency’s resume assistance email.
“If someone is requesting an appointment to come in and work on their resumes UNASSISTED, as long as they understand the 45 minute time limit, that’s perfectly fine,” Kemp wrote. “It is IMPERATIVE that we are clear and consistent with this message until our Centers are ‘opened” fully,’ or at least to the next level when we are advised by Central Office.”
Even as the numbers of the vaccinated rise and COVID-19 cases dramatically decline, “Central Office” frowns on the job assistance centers “providing career counseling, workshops, or other extended job service activities.”
And the beat goes on. Evers recently vetoed a Republican bill that would have required the Democrat to simply submit a plan for bringing back state employees to the empty buildings taxpayers are still paying to maintain.
Sources say the agency is blocking employees from helping people locked out of the economy from the lockdowns ordered by Evers and local health officials.
“I know that the government hardly works, but some of us really try to help people,” the Job Center source said.
DWD was swamped with a tsunami of unemployment claims in the weeks following Evers’ initial shelter-in-place order in March 2020. His health secretary effectively extended the order, which ran until the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck it down in May. Tens of thousands of claimants waited months for DWD to resolve their claims.
While DWD administrators and Evers have blamed the agency’s failures on outdated technology, the administration’s lack of planning, vision, and humanity conspired to create unnecessary pain for thousands of displaced workers. And the pain goes on, as does the administration’s lack of urgency.
DWD recently announced it will use $2.4 million in federal funding for software and other tech upgrades to allow its call center to be open 24 hours per day, seven days a week. It will use artificial intelligence to assist callers, which is a departure from the absence of intelligence guiding the Evers administration.
Of course the 24-hour call center isn’t expected to open until September, a year after Evers fired his DWD Secretary, Caleb Frostman. Republican lawmakers have since April urged DWD to increase manpower and hours, to meet the crisis.
A year later, the jobless remain locked out.
“Just as we have failed school children in keeping them away from the classrooms when there was no basis for it, we certainly are doing a disservice to those that have need of other government resources that we have denied them,” state Sen. Andre Jacque (R- De Pere), chairman of the Senate’s Workforce Development committee, said of the governor’s stubbornness in keeping state buildings closed to the public