| MADISON – After Gov. Tony Evers failed to address the myriad of issues with the Department of Workforce Development, despite having the authority to do so, Wisconsin Republicans stepped up to the plate to do Gov. Evers’ job for him and begin the process of upgrading Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance system.
This bill comes after Wisconsinites saw one problem after another with Gov. Tony Evers’ handling of unemployment insurance claims. DWD’s backlog of claims surpassed 700,000 over the course of the pandemic, an audit revealed that less than one percent of calls to Wisconsin’s unemployment center were answered and jobless Wisconsinites were still receiving inaccurate information from the call center this month. Thankfully, when Gov. Evers refuses to do anything but try to shift blame and sit on his hands, Wisconsinites can count on legislative Republicans to get the job done.
Read more from Empower Wisconsin here, or find excerpts below.
Assembly passes DWD, frivolous lawsuit protection bill
The Republican-led Assembly on Tuesday passed a package of measures that begin the work of upgrading the state Department of Workforce Development’s integrated technology system and frees businesses, schools and nonprofits from frivolous COVID lawsuits.
Unanimous passage in the Assembly followed heavy bipartisan supported of the legislation last week in the Senate.
Despite DWD’s myriad failures in processing hundreds of thousands of Unemployment Insurance claims over the better part of the past year, Gov. Tony Evers and his fellow Democrats have blamed all of the problems on Republican lawmakers for not previously allocating the funding to replace the old technology.
But Evers did nothing about the IT system in his first budget and was slow to act last year as tens of thousands of Wisconsinites were forced to wait several weeks and months to receive their unemployment benefits. The bigger problem was a failure of leadership and a lack of adequate staffing to handle the flood of claims — the result of COVID-19 and Evers’ statewide lockdowns and other restrictions that followed.
Evers called a special session (one of many show sessions he’s requested over his first two years in office) to deal with DWD’s tech issues. He sought $5.6 million to cover the cost of consultants. Republican lawmakers said the governor didn’t need a special session, he needed to use the existing tools he had to begin fixing the problems.
“The legislation provides a simple and easy roadmap for the governor to finally move forward at upgrading the unemployment insurance computer systems. There have been many missed opportunities and a lack of urgency by the Evers administration to address many of the issues with the unemployment insurance process during the pandemic,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester). “If Governor Evers needs us in the legislature to require him to do his job, we will.”
Before the governor taps into state funds, the bill demands he use federal COVID-19 relief money to help finance the cost of planning and building a new IT system. He could have done as much last April with a portion of the $2 billion the state received in the first round of federal relief. Evers chose not to prioritize the flawed technology.
Over the course of the pandemic, DWD’s backlog of claims surpassed 700,000. An audit found 38.3 million unanswered phone calls from hurting Wisconsinites, only 1 percent of the calls were answered. Evers was forced to fire his DWD secretary in September after six months of failures.
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