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ICYMI: Evers, Democrats take action to modernize Wisconsin’s unemployment system

May 31, 2022

ICYMI: Evers, Democrats take action to modernize Wisconsin’s unemployment system

MADISON, Wis. – Governor Evers and Democrats in the legislature have led the effort in Wisconsin to modernize the state’s unemployment system after the Walker-Kleefisch administration “chose to play politics and do nothing,” despite Kleefisch personally acknowledging she was aware of problems with the system.

According to Senator Janet Bewley writing in The Cap Times, when the pandemic began Gov. Evers fought to get the system updated quickly, understanding the urgency families faced. He tried to take further action in January 2021 with a special session to address problems with the unemployment system and proposed  $15 million in funding towards it.

Unfortunately, Republicans again chose divisive politics over doing the right thing for Wisconsinites by refusing to work with the Governor.

Despite Republican inaction, Gov. Evers was able to direct federal funds to the system and now “84% of unemployment claims are paid within one to three days — and more work is still being completed, meaning the system will continue to improve,” according to Bewley.

Read more about the governor’s work to modernize the unemployment system below.

The Cap Times: Opinion | Evers, Democrats take action to modernize Wisconsin’s unemployment system

If you live in Wisconsin this year, you’re going to see a barrage of TV ads — and it’s often tough to tell fact from fiction. One of Republicans’ repeated attacks on Gov. Tony Evers is blaming him for the issues with the state’s unemployment system — an outright lie.

No one is disputing that Wisconsin’s unemployment system couldn’t keep up with the unprecedented levels of claims it received during the pandemic’s earliest days. But what’s completely false is that Evers didn’t do anything about it — he fought multiple times, alongside Democrats in the Legislature, to update the system as quickly as possible, because he knew how important those benefits were to working families who were impacted by the pandemic.

In fact, we now know that Rebecca Kleefisch was informed within weeks of taking office as lieutenant governor that the system was a ticking time bomb but refused to take any steps to fix it. According to Manny Perez, Kleefisch and Scott Walker’s workforce development secretary, Kleefisch and Walker knew in 2011 about the flaws that contributed to the system’s slowdown during the pandemic and they did nothing to address them.

Perez flagged the problem for Walker and Kleefisch just three weeks into their administration. They refused to act, and Perez wrote that it was clear “that under no circumstances would the Walker-Kleefisch administration accept federal help from a Democratic president to fix the failing unemployment insurance system in Wisconsin.”

By refusing to act, Kleefisch and Walker left in place an antiquated system from the 1970s that relied on call centers and forced folks to submit documentation through the mail or via fax. While the rest of the world was moving online, Wisconsinites still had to mail or fax unemployment forms.

This system had no place in the 21st century — that’s why Evers and Democrats have prioritized modernizing the unemployment system and ensuring it’s better prepared for the future.

In January 2021, Evers called a special session of the Legislature to address flaws in the system, and in his latest budget proposal, he requested $15 million in funding to begin upgrading the system. Republican lawmakers refused to consider the governor’s plan to modernize the system and help Wisconsinites get the resources they need — both times.

Because of Evers, Wisconsin has made incredible progress modernizing and updating the unemployment system. Last year, he directed $80 million in federal funds to the Department of Workforce Development, which they are using in part to fund a $16.5 million modernization project — and so far, the upgrades have successfully transitioned the system away from its antiquated 50-year old call center model and toward a cloud-based system that now provides 24/7 service.

The paperwork that folks used to only be able to submit through the mail or via fax can now be uploaded online — and 91% of initial applications for unemployment benefits are now filed online.

Today, because of the modernization project, 84% of unemployment claims are paid within one to three days — and more work is still being completed, meaning the system will continue to improve.

It’s no surprise Kleefisch wants to hide from her and Walker’s disastrous record with the state’s unemployment system — for eight years, they kept an outdated system in place despite warnings that it needed updating. If Kleefisch and Walker would have acted in 2011, the state’s unemployment system would have been better prepared for the unprecedented levels of claims it received during the pandemic — a system crisis they were warned was waiting to happen yet did nothing to prevent when they had the chance in 2011.

Evers and Democrats in the Legislature are taking action to modernize the unemployment system, and it’s now better prepared for the future because of his efforts. Evers will always try to do the right thing for our state — his opponents can’t say the same about their record.

Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Delta, is the minority leader of the Wisconsin state Senate.

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