On Thursday, March 18, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced that it had secured a $2.4 million federal grant to begin updating the computer system used to administer the state’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) program. The updates are a result of 2021 Act 4, which was signed by Governor Tony Evers on February 25.
DWD will spend half of its grant ($1.2 million) to contract with 18F, an office of the federal General Services Administration that helps government entities acquire technology and build digital services. 18F will assist DWD in developing project requirements and requests for proposals from potential vendors. First, DWD plans to purchase a cloud-based communications center that would allow people to access claims information by phone at any time. The agency released its initial project requirements and bid specifications on March 16.
The department has also signed an agreement to receive free consulting services from U.S. Digital Response. The nonprofit organization is assisting DWD in developing short- and long-term goals and plans related to the project.
As we reported here, Act 4 included both COVID-19 liability protections and UI reforms. The law requires DWD, which administers the UI program, to begin updating the information technology systems used for processing and paying UI claims. DWD was required to issue a request for proposals by March 29 and must begin the project by June 30. To fund the upgrades, DWD can request supplemental funding or a transfer of funding from the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance or get funds through the Department of Administration’s master lease program.
Act 4 is the result of a special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Evers following his State of the State address in January. Referencing the massive influx of unemployment claims that the state has received since last March, the governor claimed that an “antiquated system” and burdensome rules were the main causes of the resulting backlog of claims and long delays in processing time. The governor called upon the Legislature to convene a special session to take up his proposed changes to the UI system.
While the Legislature approved parts of the governor’s proposal, it removed a $5.3 million appropriation for the project and several other provisions. Separately, in his 2021-23 budget proposal, the governor included $79 million for DWD to upgrade its UI technology.