Image of a computer screen displaying decades old technology, with a black background and rows of bright blue text. Yellow boxes redact personal information.
A screenshot shows what an adjudicator with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development sees when working on an unemployment claim. DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek — who replaced her ousted predecessor in September — said she was in “complete shock” when she discovered how inadequate Wisconsin’s claims processing technology is. Credit: Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development
Credit: Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch

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Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday signed into law legislation to upgrade 1970s-era technology that shares part of the blame for Wisconsin’s failure to quickly deliver unemployment benefits to thousands of residents who lost work during the pandemic. 

The law instructs the Department of Workforce Development to begin work on overhauling a computer system that takes months to program and cannot even answer phones and print compensation checks at the same time. But the Republican-controlled Legislature did not include funding for a project with a $90 million expected price tag. Instead, the law instructs Evers to “seek and exhaust any federal funding available to use” before requesting funds from lawmakers.

DWD planned a major overhaul of its computer system more than a decade ago, but Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration pulled the plug in 2007 as the project fell behind schedule and looked poised to exceed its $24 million budget.

In a Wisconsin Watch/WPR report last week, labor experts said Wisconsin could take more immediate steps to help jobless residents who are waiting. Those include making filing claims more user-friendly — as other states have done during the pandemic — by waiving restrictions Republicans enacted last decade to limit access to benefits.

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What are we missing? And how are you coping? Help us provide critical information and accountability by filling out this form or emailing us at tips@wisconsinwatch.org.

Quotable

“Hopefully, it will put an end to the governor’s excuses for not starting these upgrades himself. Throughout the pandemic, there have been many missed opportunities and a lack of urgency by the Evers administration to address many of the issues with the unemployment insurance process.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in a newsletter, after Gov. Tony Evers signed legislation to overhaul the state’s unemployment insurance technology

Data to note

Here’s a look at the Department of Health Services’ vaccine dashboard, which showed Thursday that 49.4% of Wisconsinites ages 65 and older have gotten at least one dose — as have 14.5% of the state’s overall population. Racial disparities persist in distributing vaccines. The shares of Black, Hispanic and Native American residents to receive a dose remain significantly below that of white residents.   

Public health officials continue to urge Wisconsinites to wear masks and practice physical distancing until vaccinations are more widely distributed. 

WisContext offers this visualization of Wisconsin COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Calculate your exposure risk

In Wisconsin, even small gatherings can carry a risk of exposure to the coronavirus, according to a nationwide tool that estimates the danger by the size of gathering and county in which it is held. Data scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Stanford University developed the tool, which you can find here.

Resilient Wisconsin

People helping others and showing resilience during this time of anxiety. Send suggestions by tagging us on social media — @wisconsinwatch — or emailing us: tips@wisconsinwatch.org

‘Filling a gap some food pantries can’t meet’ | Drive-thru at Mount Pleasant COP House serves over 200 families The Journal Times 

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The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.