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Modernizing WI unemployment system needs to start now, D.W.D officials say

Department of Workforce Development pushes for urgency in getting funding
Published: Jan. 27, 2021 at 12:30 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2021 at 6:35 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is urging lawmakers to invest in modernizing its unemployment system.

Since the pandemic hit, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites have experienced the flaws in the state’s Unemployment Insurance System first-hand.

“The only path to preventing and preparing for future crisis like the one we’re working through now is a comprehensive modernization of our IT system. This administration recognized the desperate state of the UI system even before the pandemic hit,” says Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek.

DWD staff currently have to use a 50 year old mainframe, designed using coding language that is over 60 years old. During a briefing Wednesday morning, employees walked step by step through the process, showing what it takes just to process one simple claim.

Pechacek says an entire system overhaul is estimated to cost up to $90,000,000. An estimated $48,000,000-70,000,000 accounts for the UI combined tax and benefit system upgrade itself. The remainder of the estimated cost would be for interest charges on a master lease and maintenance costs.

“As Governor Evers proposed in his recent State Of The State Address an initial investment of $5.3 million would allow DWD to move forward with the process now. We also hope to see a full commitment for funding modernization in the state’s biennial budget,” says Pechacek.

The entire modernization process will take 3 to 5 years to complete. That’s why officials with DWD says this needs to start now.

“This initial investment is only the first step so we can begin the formal procurement. As Governor Evers stated, replacing this system will take years and that’s why it should have been done sooner, but that’s also why we don’t have another moment to waste,” says Pechacek.

The vision for this modernization includes e-communication for claimants and employers, automation of now manual processes and 24/7 self-service.

Officials say the upgrade would make the entire process, from filing a claim to getting paid, a lot faster. It would also get rid of redundant and cumbersome tasks currently necessary on the back-end.

“Ultimately, this is the necessary solution to provide better, faster services to future claimants and improve the UI systems ability to respond to future recessions,” says Pechacek.

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