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DWD to upgrade outdated unemployment insurance system software if legislators pass bill

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:38 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:57 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Wisconsin’s Dept. of Workforce Development (DWD) is close to receiving funding to update its outdated software system used for unemployment insurance.

Tuesday afternoon, the State Assembly passed a bill with unanimous approval that would fund upgrades to the COBOL software system from the 1970s. Governor Tony Evers has previously stated that he would sign it.

An administrator at the DWD said the agency started looking at system upgrade options more than a year ago.

“We are hamstrung on this current system,” the agency’s Unemployment Insurance Division Administrator Mark Reihl said.

He’s started looking at agency software updates before the pandemic even started.

“We’re not able to offer the service our claimants deserve,” Reihl said.

Reihl said right now some employees navigate through 100 screens while processing unemployment claims. The current system also only allows for faxes and paper mail.

“Everyone uses email and texting and we’ll be able to use that technology,” Reihl said, adding that changes will take time. “It is going to be a major project, not something you do overnight.”

Reihl said it could take 3-5 years to replace the DWD’s 50-year-old software system.

“Whether it’s a complete overhaul of the system or doing these things incrementally, those are things we’re going to be looking at,” Reihl said.

But now, with funding in sight, they can finally move forward.

“We do want to do these things as quickly as possible,” Reihl said.

The Wisconsin DWD has completed the changes to one federal program for continued unemployment assistance. Changes to a second program are scheduled to finish March 4. The agency’s website states if they had a modern system, it could launch all four programs at once and do so more quickly.

To reiterate, Gov. Evers still needs to sign the bill before the funding is official.

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