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 March 1, 2021



Special Session Bill 1 has been enacted into state law.  The Department of Workforce Development will begin upgrading its Unemployment Insurance computer systems.  The bill literally directed Governor Tony Evers to do something that was already routinely his job:


Section 7. 108.14 (27) of the statutes is created to read:

108.14 (27) (a) 1. The department of workforce development shall, in cooperation with the department of administration as required under subch. VII of ch. 16, undertake a project to update its information technology systems used for processing and paying claims for benefits. The department shall seek and exhaust any federal funding available to use for the project, including any funding made available by federal COVID-19 relief legislation.


Even when he signed the bill into law last week, Governor Evers was still trying to dodge responsibility, claiming that "it's unfortunate the Legislature cut the funding."  Let's look back at some of the recent history; unfortunately, the Governor's claims just don't add up.


1) October 2019 (months before COVID-19).  The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) met with vendors to discuss updating the IT system.  Nothing happened.


2) March 2020.  Governor Evers declared a state of emergency; unemployment claims rocketed to 100,000+ weekly.


3) April 2020.  Federal CARES Act money ($2 billion) arrived in Wisconsin's checkbook.  Money was required to be spent on COVID-19 related expenses; Governor Evers had total control of the money, with no legislative oversight.  (Here's how he budgeted the money.  Even now, we have no clear picture of how much was actually spent and how much remains available.  Looks like there's still a healthy reserve left.)  The Wisconsin State Legislature set aside an additional $75 million, which the Governor never made use of for anything at all.




4) July 2020.  Wisconsin Republicans proposed providing federal aid to those stuck in claims adjudication.  Governor Evers dismissed this out of hand as a "political stunt."


5) September 2020.  DWD published its budget request for the next two years.  No funding was requested for IT upgrades.


6) September 2020.  DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman resigned.


7) September 2020 and December 2020.  Nonpartisan audits showed that fewer than 1 percent of calls to DWD were answered during the shutdown, even though the Legislature gave the Governor flexibility to transfer employees to meet this need, and that DWD typically had the information it needed from claimants but failed to act to pay claims.


8) October 2020: DWD leadership knew they faced a new backlog of tens of thousands of claim appeals.  Governor's office blocked DWD from answering constituents' questions and from fulfilling an open records request from NBC Milwaukee.


9) February 2021: Wisconsin State Legislature passed another wide-ranging COVID-19 relief package that set aside another $100 million in emergency funds if needed.  Governor Evers vetoed the bill.


10) March 2021: Congress is poised to spend $1.9 trillion in new legislation.  Early estimates are that Wisconsin will receive another $5 billion to $6 billion in new funds, likely within just a few weeks.


In the midst of this, it took two months of Republican pressure just to get DWD to agree to expand hours at the main call center until 5:00 PM daily.  (Until mid-May, the call center closed at 3:30 PM daily.)


Yet, as recently as last week, Governor Evers was still insisting that the real problem at DWD is Republicans' failure to provide funding.


No, Governor.  Upgrading DWD's computer systems wasn't a priority for you before COVID-19.  After your shutdown orders created the claims backlog, you didn't use any federal relief money to start fixing it.  You didn't use any state funds that Republicans budgeted (twice).  Your agency chief didn't ask this past fall for any more funding to fix it.  When the media started asking questions, you covered up the story.  And, now that the Legislature has required you to get started on a fix (it was a unanimous vote in the Assembly), and even though you know there is a windfall of federal funding on the way, you're still taking shots at Republicans for failing you?  You're still claiming that your special session prompted us to act?


The people of Wisconsin have waited long enough.  Thanks to the Legislature's intervention, DWD is finally procuring some IT upgrades.  But the facts (and the audits) speak for themselves: the Governor and his people, rather than their programs, let us down.


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Office of Representative Terry Katsma
State Capitol, Room 306 East
P.O. Box 8952
Madison, WI 53708

(608) 266-0656
Rep.Katsma@legis.wisconsin.gov|  |