I-Team looks into Gov. Evers' plan to fix unemployment system

Posted at 3:24 PM, Jan 13, 2021

During his virtual State of the State address, Governor Tony Evers said we don't have a moment to waste in overhauling Wisconsin's struggling unemployment system.

"Send me the bill and let's just get it done," the governor said.

"We know that replacing this system will take years. That's why it should've been done sooner, but it's also why we now have not another moment to waste," he continued.

Evers announced anexecutive order Tuesday, calling a special session of the legislature to overhaul the Department of Workforce Development's (DWD) antiquated system.

It's scheduled for next Tuesday at noon. Following his speech, the Governor released his plan.

The plan mentions several provisions for electronic communication methods to help streamline correspondence between the employers, claimants, and other entities. It calls for injecting $5.3 million dollars to modernize the current program.

"If it was a priority to the Evers administration, I think it would have been addressed and fixed a lot earlier," said Toni Matis of West Bend.

She's been waiting for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits since March. She told the I-Team she was incorrectly denied.

"I'm very disappointed. I love Wisconsin. I love the state. I love everything about Wisconsin -- except the unemployment system."

Governor Evers' plan would address the antiquated claims processing technology, but the bill doesn't mention how that will help with overpayments, appeals, and what many call a complicated application process.

Last week, the I-Team learned 68,0000 people have been overpaid 54 million dollars (from April to November) and they've been told they need to pay it back to the DWD.

In December, the head of the DWD, Amy Pechacek told lawmakers another 14,000 were waiting for an appeal date.

Pechacek did tell the I-Team with the help of a contract with Google, the DWD hopes to streamline the application process.

It's something that right now is the source of frustration for unemployed residents.

"They word the questions in such a way that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. No matter how you answer, you're going to be wrong, Matis said.

During his State of the State speech, Governor Evers listed numerous steps the state took in order to help the DWD process claims faster.

"We brought our staffing up from about 500 employees in our Unemployment Insurance Division to more than 1,800 to answer phone calls, process claims, and follow up with folks who'd applied for benefits. And during that time, the DWD paid nearly 600,000 claimants more than $4.6 billion in unemployment insurance benefits to folks across our state," Evers said.

Tuesday's special sessions is scheduled for noon.

"I want to make myself clear: If the legislature continues to ignore this problem, if they gavel in and gavel out as they've done before, if they leave this problem for another administration, another generation, the people of this state will hold them accountable at the ballot box," he said.

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