‘I Have Nothing:’ The Story Of Wisconsin’s Unemployment Crisis

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MILWAUKEE, WI — It was Wednesday morning, and DeiDra Blakley was on the floor of her Milwaukee apartment counting the loose change she saves in a jar. Blakely has been out of work for more than 13 weeks, and despite applying for unemployment insurance benefits in Wisconsin, she has yet […]

MILWAUKEE, WI — It was Wednesday morning, and DeiDra Blakley was on the floor of her Milwaukee apartment counting the loose change she saves in a jar.

Blakely has been out of work for more than 13 weeks, and despite applying for unemployment insurance benefits in Wisconsin, she has yet to receive a check. She’s fallen more than two months behind on her rent, and is afraid she might be evicted after the state’s 60-day moratorium on evictions expired last week.

She has a quarter-tank of gas left in her car, and she’s been spending the morning hunting for boxes at nearby gas stations, so she has something to pack her belongings in case she is evicted.

The change amounts to $16.03 — almost enough to fill the tank.

Blakely used to work in the Fire Keepers Club at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino until she was furloughed. Her last day on the job was March 16, and even though the casino has opened back up, she has yet to get a call back to start work.

In better times, Blakely said she still lived paycheck-to-paycheck, but that times had gotten much worse. The COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin and “Safer At Home” business shutdowns cut off Blakley’s source of income, and the unemployment that was supposed to be her lifeline has yet to come.

She feels like she, and so many other people she knows, have been set up to fail.

“How could the government put people in this situation and drop the ball so bad?,” she said.

It’s a question thousands of Wisconsinites are wondering as well.

Nearly one out of every seven adults in Wisconsin has filed for unemployment benefits over the last 83 days, according to official state statistics.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, between March 15 and June 6, 626,697 people have applied for unemployment insurance benefits. During that time, state officials say they’ve been receiving more than 16,000 phone calls a day about unemployment insurance benefits.

Yet for many of those callers, answers have yet to come.

One Day Closer To The Breaking Point

Wisconsin Patch talked to Wisconsin residents who have been waiting as long as Blakley for unemployment benefits to come through, yet there are some out there who will say they’ve waited longer.

Some who talked with us said they’ve exhausted their entire life’s savings, their checking accounts, sold items online, are facing eviction and are looking at living out of their vehicles if things get any worse.

Last week, the Department of Workforce Development released statistics saying that the average wait time for unemployment is a mere 19 days. State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) issued a statement upon learning the news that some state unemployment insurance recipients had been waiting as long as four or five weeks for benefits to come through. “What the hell is going on over there?” Wanggaard said at the time. “They’ve had three months to fix this problem. They’ve added hundreds of workers. The more people they add, the worse the situation is getting. It’s completely unacceptable.”

Yet, when one digs deeper into Wisconsin’s unemployment crisis, the statistics can appear misleading. State regulators are still processing claims from early April. A survey posted on a Wisconsin Unemployment Support Group that contains more than 3,000 members revealed that a lot of people were waiting close to 10 weeks to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claim — and they’re still waiting.

Every day, unemployment wait times stretch another day, pushing thousands of Wisconsinites one day closer to their breaking point.

‘My savings is gone and I have nothing’

Kim Schillo told Patch that she was an administrative assistant with a manufacturing company in Waukesha. She lost her job on April 30, and completed an initial unemployment claim the same day.

Schillo said she spoke with state regulators Tuesday, who told her they are currently working on claims from the first week of April, and that she should be prepared to wait six more weeks.

“I was able to make it May and June, using savings to get all of the bills paid,” Schillo told Patch. “But as July approaches I am getting lots of stress and anxiety worrying about rent, car insurance and car payments. My savings is gone and I have nothing.”

‘My Story Is Not A Tragedy, Yet’

Stephanie Cheeseman took a job at UW-Green Bay in Aug. 2018 as the Assistant Director of International Recruitment.

“I am single, so all bills fall on me. And, I could manage, but, it’s about to get rough,” she told Patch. “I have $200 in my bank account. I am behind on credit card payments, utility payments and rent. My credit score is tanking.”

Cheeseman said she calls the Department of Workforce Development every day, and gets disconnected every day.

“DWD did send me a letter stating how much I would receive weekly. But since then, my portal has stated that I am ‘under review,’ because I worked for an educational institution,” she told Patch. “My story is not a tragedy, yet. There are many who are in far worse situations.”

‘The World Is Upside-Down’

Christine Grey, a part-time hostess who lives in Kimberly says she was laid off from her job on March 17 when “Safer At Home” went into effect, and is still waiting to hear about her unemployment claim.

Earlier this year, Grey joined a Wisconsin unemployment support group on Facebook. She said the stories that people were sharing were devastating to learn. She’s contacted state legislators several times and says she’s only heard from one staffer.

“These folks need to be heard. I have reached out on their behalf many times with no response,” she told Patch. “It’s very frustrating to see them suffering so much and have the people who are supposed to be on their side patting themselves on the back for what a tremendous job they’ve done.”

Grey says she’s motivated to help others amid the unemployment crisis in Wisconsin, though admits she’s frustrated with what’s happening at the state level.

“I like to fix things, and this is just beyond craziness,” Grey told Patch. “The world is clearly upside down right now, but even a single voice deserves attention when they are calling out for help, and this is thousands.”

This article originally appeared on the Waukesha Patch

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