Gov. Evers signs bill to modernize Wisconsin’s decades-old unemployment system

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is signing a bill to modernize the state’s antiquated unemployment system.

The software running the state’s unemployment system was developed in the 1970s and was overwhelmed with the vast number of unemployment claims over the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to significant delays in response times and payments.

The legislature passed a measure to modernize the nearly 50-year-old system earlier this week, with no members of the Assembly voting against it.

The governor released a video of the bill signing on Thursday morning.

“The system isn’t new, and the problems aren’t, either,” the governor said in the video. “We saw these problems brought to bear during the Great Recession. We saw it again during COVID-19. At the end of the day, this problem could’ve been addressed by the previous administrations and more than a decade’s worth of state legislators who knew this system was outdated and couldn’t handle an economic crisis like the one this pandemic created.”

The governor’s office says the bill does not include funding for the system upgrade or a commitment to fund it, but Republicans have maintained the governor did not need legislative approval to upgrade the system.

The new law allows the state to open up a bidding process to upgrade the system and seek federal funding. It also allows Gov. Evers to ask for funding from the state’s budget committee. In his 2021-2023 budget proposal, the governor estimated the upgrade could cost close to $80 million.

About 1.28 million initial unemployment claims were filed in Wisconsin between March 15, 2020 and Jan. 16, 2021 — four times the amount of claims filed in all of 2019.