Budget Committee asks Gov. Evers to request funding to fix outdated unemployment system

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Upgrading outdated technology used to process the state’s unemployment claims is once again at the center of a political debate. 

Republican co-chairs on the Joint Finance Committee sent a letter to Governor Tony Evers asking him to send them a formal request to release funding to fix the decades-old system at the Department of Workforce Development. 

Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), co-chair of the JFC committee, tells CBS 58 the governor should take this step to address overdue problems at the state agency responsible for processing an unprecedented amount of unemployment claims due to the pandemic. 

“If this is a priority -- plug that money back into the agency, hire the consultant you want and start the process and include it in your next budget,” said Rep. Born. “There’s opportunity for the governor to lead and for whatever reason (he) just doesn’t want to do it.”

The governor can request funding from the Republican-led committee without legislative approval, but the accounts he can use are limited. 

A spokeswoman for Gov. Evers said Republicans could have acted sooner, as state audits dating back to 2014 showed there were problems detected at the department.   

“If Republicans’ contention is that this could be done unilaterally and/or could be done now through JFC, then what’s their excuse for taking no action in the near-decade during which they controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government?” said Britt Cudabeck, Gov. Evers' spokeswoman. 

The department’s outdated technology and system are some of the biggest hurdles when trying to adapt to a record number of unemployment claims. 

Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point) also fired back at Republicans' letter, saying they could have acted last week when Gov. Evers called for a special session to vote on his more than $5 million proposal focused on upgrading the unemployment system. GOP leaders rejected Evers' call, gaveling in and out without any action. 

“This could be taken care of this week if Republicans wanted to, but they are choosing to delay it even more,” said Erpenbach. 

Gov. Evers could also use funding from the federal CARES Act to address the outdated systems at DWD.

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