Web Extra: Lawmakers debate DWD funding

Reps. Evan Goyke and Jessie Rodriguez discuss how much money the Department of Workforce Development should get to modernize computer systems.

Video Transcript

- I also want to know about unemployment benefits, because, Representative Rodriguez, Republicans on the Budget Committee decided not to put that additional $15 million towards Wisconsin's unemployment benefits program. We know that this was kind of a mess, that people in the state were struggling to get their money over the last year. So why not make that investment?

JESSIE RODRIGUEZ: So we took action on this issue, modernizing the unemployment system program. We had the Department of Workforce Development come to us before the Joint Committee of Finance earlier this year. And at that point they acknowledged that they really didn't know how much the upgrade was going to cost. It was an estimate that they had. So what we ask them is to go back using the federal funding that they have available to them and their GPR funds to do-- we call it an RFI-- to request for information, to actually go back to vendors and find out how much the upgrade is going to cost. So we've directed the agencies to do that, and they are supposed to come back to us and tell us how much it's going to cost. And at that point, we can actually have conversations about how much funding they need and to be able to allocate that for them.

- Representative Goyke, what do you think about that?

EVAN GOYKE: Well, we know that this is a system that needs to be addressed. It's not a matter of when, it's a matter of political will and getting it done. So if you are watching or listening to this debate, and you, or a friend, or a loved one experienced frustration over the unemployment system in the last 18 months, then you should be upset with what Representative Rodriguez just said. A delay, more plans, more paperwork, more bureaucracy. The governor and legislative Democrats have come forward and said, we need to modernize. We need to put our money where our mouth is. This is a state system, a state responsibility. We shouldn't punt it to the federal funding that's available. That federal dollars is really about our recovery, our economic recovery and resiliency from COVID. This is a state responsibility. It's been put off for too long, and we want to solve it. We just want to end it, and that means putting your money where your mouth is.

JESSIE RODRIGUEZ: I'm glad you said that, that putting your money where your mouth is, because the governor had authority and the ability to be able to make these changes beforehand. But he never did, and he never took the blame for not being able to take care of the unemployment claims that were left unpaid and left a lot of people very frustrated with the system.

So it's not Republican's problem that this occurred. It was actually the governor's. He could have fixed it. He didn't, and he eventually fired the secretary in order to pass the blame to someone else. So this is a way for us to be able to get the system modernized. They acknowledge that they didn't quite know how much it was going to cost, and it is a process that is not going to be done in one year. It takes several years. So they're doing the study. They are going to come back to us with how much it's going to cost, and we are more than willing to provide the funding, because we think that this system is not working. It needs to be upgraded.

- Representative Goyke, you want a quick, final word on that before we move on?

EVAN GOYKE: Yeah. The governor held the department accountable. They've made a turnaround in the agency. And this is, again, just like the education debate we just had, legislative Republicans saying, well, we may fund it later. Come back to us. And it needs to be fixed now. The money needs to be appropriated now. We shouldn't be waiting months, and months, and months.