MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers' proposed budget for the next two years includes specific changes aimed at making the unemployment system easier to access while upgrading the outdated computer system the state blames for much of the delays.
Most notably in the budget, a $79.5 million plan to fix the 70s-era claims processing technology. The Department of Workforce Development has blamed the IT system for a number of delays.
"We could make excuses for the last decade of decision-makers who cut corners, or we can commit right now to start putting people first," the governor said in Tuesday's budget address.
Most recently it blamed the system for delays in implementing federal pandemic unemployment programs like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).
On Wednesday, lawmakers in the Joint Finance Committee approved legislation directing the DWD and the Department of Administration to initiate the software upgrades. It also extends a waiver of the state's one-week waiting period for benefits until March 14.
“If upgrading the unemployment system is truly a priority for Governor Evers, he will support this legislation. The Governor does not need legislative approval to initiate an IT system upgrade, but it is clear he does not plan to move forward unless directed to do so. This legislation also includes a number of common-sense provisions from vetoed AB 1 that the Governor has expressed support for in the past," Co-Chairs state Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and state Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) said in a joint statement.
Also in the governor's proposed budget, changes to unemployment law he says will make it easier to access unemployment benefits.
Under his budget, the state would eliminate the one-week waiting period for benefits permanently.
It would increase the maximum weekly benefit amount from $370 to $409 by next year, with additional increases in 2023 and 2024.
Social Security Disability Insurance recipients would become eligible for regular unemployment insurance. They are currently eligible for PUA.
Also, it would repeal the maximum weekly earnings threshold, eliminate substantial fault as a disqualifying element and repeal drug testing requirements.
What the proposed budget does not do is address the current backlog of people who believe they were unfairly denied and have appealed the department's determination.
As of Feb. 8, 16,614 appeals cases were still waiting for a hearing date. Another 2,070 were scheduled.
The DWD says it is in the process of hiring additional administrative law judges to handle the expanded caseload.