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DWD pushes back on demands to get tougher on work search rules

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The Department of Workforce Development said Friday it has no plans to more aggressively pursue cases of people possibly failing to meet job search requirements in order to qualify for unemployment benefits.

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Some of the state's top Republicans and its biggest business lobby have in recent days bemoaned reports of business owners dealing with people turning down job offers or not showing up for job interviews.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) on Wednesday said he wanted the DWD to take a more active approach to following up on cases where someone applying for unemployment may not have met the requirement of making four work search contacts per week.

It's the latest push from conservatives seeking to address a labor shortage that was already a significant problem in Wisconsin before the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This was our biggest economic challenge pre-pandemic," said Kurt Bauer, CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. "And it's now been compounded by the $300/week supplemental offered by the federal government."

DWD communications director Amy Barrilleaux said the agency believed there were more effective ways to address the labor shortage, starting with an investment in training programs.

"Getting Wisconsin back on the road to recovery needs solutions that aren't just kind of aggressively punishing people around UI but are really about connecting people with the skills they need," Barrilleaux said.

Barrilleaux added relatively few employers were reporting job rejections or no-shows for interviews.

She said turning every such instance over to DWD would require employers to make assumptions about the candidates involved.

"It's very difficult to expect employers to know when they should report something to us if somebody doesn't show up for an interview," Barrilleaux said. "They don't know if that person is getting unemployment or what their situation is."

Tech Upgrade Update

Barrilleaux said the DWD had put out a Request for Information Thursday seeking to learn more from vendors interested in bidding on the $80 million multi-year job of overhauling the state's outdated software system used to process unemployment claims.

The agency would then use the additional information to prepare an actual request for bids where contractors would make their pitch and name their price.

When asked why the DWD was just now putting out that early-stage request, considering it got the green light from lawmakers to start the overhaul in February, Barrilleaux said overhauling the entire processing system would need to take time in order to be done right.

"It's an incredibly complex system," Barrilleaux said. "You know, we're not talking about getting a Microsoft Outlook upgrade."