Wisconsin Assembly passes unemployment bill, Evers to sign

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 9:59 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) - UPDATE: The Wisconsin Assembly has overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill designed to jump-start updates to the state’s antiquated unemployment claims processing system.

Gov. Tony Evers has promised to sign the bill which the Senate passed last week on a 27-3 vote.

The Assembly passed it Tuesday 89-0.

Evers has taken intense criticism for months over a backlog of unemployment claims stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

He has largely blamed the state’s antiquated, 50-year-old computer processing system for handling the claims.

The bill as passed also waives the one-week waiting period for receiving unemployment benefits until March 14 and extends limited liability from COVID-related lawsuits to businesses, governments and schools.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) released the following statement after the bill passed the Assembly Tuesday afternoon:

“The legislation provides a simple and easy roadmap for the governor to finally move forward at upgrading the unemployment insurance computer systems. 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 during the pandemic. If Governor Evers needs us in the legislature to require him to do his job, we will. However, the governor can’t blame the computer systems as the main reason for the backlog of unemployment insurance claims. Nonpartisan legislative audits showed that less than 1 percent of the calls were answered at the call center during the height of the pandemic and DWD was responsible for 85% of the delay in payments. The people of Wisconsin have waited far too long for the state to resolve the issues caused by Governor Evers.”

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

Other Republicans, as well as Democrats, also sounded off on the vote, including Rep. Paul Tittle (R-Manitowoc) and Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa):

“Governor Evers has neglected to improve the system or lead during the most stressful time for unemployed Wisconsinites. This bill provides a roadmap for improvements for Wisconsin’s outdated computer system, a process which the governor could have begun on his own. It is unfortunate that the Evers administration has used the outdated computer system as an excuse for the massive backlog of UI claims during the height of the pandemic. Several nonpartisan audits of the agency showed mismanagement was mainly to blame, and yet he has continued to exclude it from his two budgets. The governor has been in office for more than two years and his administration has yet to make a meaningful effort to replace the computer system even with all the available tools at his disposal.”

Rep. Paul Tittle

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: The state Assembly is set to sign off on a bill that would clear the way for updating Wisconsin’s antiquated unemployment insurance system.

Gov. Tony Evers has blamed the system for causing delays in processing claims filed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure would allow state officials to use federal money to start upgrades and ask lawmakers for state dollars as needed.

The bill also would waive a one-week waiting period for collecting unemployment benefits until March 14 and extend limited liability for COVID-related injuries and deaths to businesses, governments and schools.

The Senate passed the bill last week. Assembly approval would send it to Evers, who has said he will sign it.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.