MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin has entered into a nearly $17 million, multi-year contract with software development company Flexion to update the antiquated system for paying unemployment claims that was overwhelmed last year during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state announced Wednesday.
Federal funds are being used to pay for the entire computer upgrade project, which the state Department of Workforce Development estimates will cost about $90 million, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
The modernization project comes as the state attempts to address concerns about long delays in the processing of unemployment claims that led to some people having to wait months to get their checks. Republicans have seized on the issue as a liability for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers as he seeks reelection next year.
State officials said Madison-based Flexion was chosen through a competitive process that brought in 18 submissions.
Neeraj Kulkarni, the DWD's chief information officer, said department officials will begin creating an implementation roadmap with Flexion to plan out IT updates and that claimants should be able to notice initial changes to the state’s unemployment system “very soon.”
Department Secretary Amy Pechacek said other changes to the unemployment process include updated call centers, which will launch next week and be fully implemented by February 2022, and a virtual career center that will go live in the coming days and aims to better connect job seekers with prospective employers in the state.
Pechacek also said the department has increased the number of administrative law judges, who preside over the appeals process for unemployment claims, from 17 before the pandemic to more than 60.
The department reported more than 35,000 weekly unemployment insurance claims and more than 12,500 appeals pending scheduling for the week ending Sept. 18. The average age of appeals that were filed and awaiting a hearing was 55 days.
Five months ago, the department saw more than 94,500 weekly claims and more than 13,800 appeals pending. The average age of appeals that were filed and awaiting a hearing was 78 days.