THU AM News: DWD walks through outdated UI system; Kind, Gallagher agree Wisconsin needs immigration reform, disagree on how to get there

— Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to modernize the state’s Unemployment Insurance system would automate the current tedious and time-consuming process, claims workers argued.

From March 15, 2020, to Jan. 16, 2021, 1.28 million initial claims were filed in Wisconsin, quadruple the initial claims filed in all of 2019, said Department of Workforce Development Secretary Amy Pechacek. The agency also received more than 10 million weekly claims compared to just 7.2 million claims in the four-year period leading up to 2020.

When she came to DWD in September, Pechacek said the agency’s outdated UI system was “a complete shock.”

Yesterday morning, Pechacek and her DWD colleagues walked through the problems of the antiquated system during a public livestream event. The agency’s chief information officer, Neeraj Kulkarni, explained that the programming for the UI system was developed in the early 1970s. The code language used in the system was developed in the late 1950s.

The virtual tour came as GOP lawmakers have rejected Evers’ request to pass legislation in a special session to begin funding an overhaul of the system. Republicans have argued Evers already has the power to begin the process without legislative approval. They have also suggested he could request the Joint Finance Committee to approve a request to move around existing funds to help pay for the work.

UI programming and policy analyst Emily Savard walked through the filing process from DWD’s end. Claims processors use at least seven different systems that don’t always work well together to get through claims, Savard said.

Read the full story at 

— U.S. Reps. Ron Kind and Mike Gallagher say immigration reform is needed to help fill vacant job positions in Wisconsin but disagreed on how to carry out that reform. 

While La Crosse Dem Kind said a broader, more comprehensive approach to immigration reform is a “logical” place to start addressing the labor shortage in Wisconsin, Allouez Republican Gallagher said a more targeted “piece by piece” approach would be more likely to pass through Congress.

The two voiced their opinions during the latest Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce briefing.

“I guarantee you there is a small win on robust border security in return for some action on DACA,” Gallagher said. He added offering amnesty to millions of immigrants in a comprehensive approach “forces all Republicans to tune it out.”

DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a program that defers deportation for illegal immigrants that have been brought to the U.S. as kids.

But Kind said a bipartisan comprehensive approach is the key. 

“It’s going to require some compromise on both sides, but I think it’s going to be crucial in recognizing the workforce shortages that we have, that we will have, because of the demographics that we are facing as a country right now.”

— Keeping on the international front, both representatives said the U.S. should take advantage of the Brexit aftermath by striking a trade deal with the U.K. and increasing international trade overall.

Gallagher said a trade agreement with the European ally would be a “win-win” for both countries as the U.K. struggles to deal with new import and export regulations in the wake of Brexit, when the U.K. withdrew from the European Union.

Kind also said he has been working on such a trade agreement as co-chair of the House British-American Parliamentary Group. 

“Obviously our main focus there is on a new bilateral trade agreement with them in the coming months and hopefully we will be able to see that brought to conclusion here in 2021,” he said. 

Kind added he hopes “we can end the trade wars” by eliminating many of the tariffs placed by the Trump administration. 

Gallagher said there is a lot of opportunity for bipartisanship when it comes to “selective decoupling” with China, but he still wants to send a “strong signal” to China by striking a free trade agreement with Taiwan.

Taiwanese sovereignty from the People’s Republic of China has been debated among the international community for over 70 years.  

— The pair also had mixed views on how to address climate change and bring renewable energy to Wisconsin.

Kind suggested increased use of nuclear energy in the state via small nuclear reactors. Commonly used sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar are difficult to implement in Wisconsin since sunshine and strong winds are not consistently available throughout the year, he said.

“We ought to be exploring that much more aggressively,” he said, adding that it could lead to construction opportunities and good-paying jobs.  

Gallagher focused on President Biden’s recent move to stop construction on the Keystone XL pipeline, saying it “doesn’t even make a dent” in climate change. 

He called Biden’s decision a “massive geopolitical shift” to Russia that pokes the United States’ “closest friend, Canada, in the eye.”

— The Assembly today is set to take up a resolution that would overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate after it cleared the Senate 18-13.

GOP Sens. Rob Cowles, of Green Bay, and Dale Kooyenga, of Brookfield, joined Dems in opposing the resolution.

Kooyenga said on the floor he didn’t disagree with a single word in the resolution. At the same time, he feared people would use the passage of the resolution to justify keeping schools closed to in-person instruction. He said students are suffering from virtual learning and the driving issue for him in the coming months is to get them back in the classroom, saying a generation of kids could be lost.

“I stand with opening our schools, and I stand with the health care providers in my district,” said Kooyenga, the only Republican member of the Senate whose seat was won by Joe Biden in November.

Cowles, meanwhile, said he believed the resolution sent the wrong message and would result in fewer people wearing masks. He said he was standing by the side of science that has shown masks are a useful tool in limiting the spread of COVID-19 and with health care workers.

“The health care community has suffered through this entire ordeal, and I wasn’t about to make it worse,” he said.

See more on the Senate debate here: 

— Meanwhile, Department of Health Services data show nearly 9 percent of Wisconsinites ages 65 and older have been vaccinated for COVID-19 so far. The group accounts for about 700,000 people. 

Overall, DHS says Wisconsin has administered 382,701 COVID-19 shots and over 74,000 people have completed the two-dose series. 

The federal government has allocated over 846,000 doses to the state. The vaccines are a two-dose series. Firefighters, police officers, health care workers and staff and residents in long-term care facilities are also getting vaccinated. 

The Biden administration is seeking to buy another 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, according to reports from Washington. DHS said the agency is happy to hear the president’s announcement, but it’s too early to say how much of that vaccine will be available for Wisconsin. 

DHS’ vaccination rollout is contingent on the amount of vaccine available. 

“If we get more, then of course we’ll be able to vaccinate more people,” said department spokeswoman Jennifer Miller.

See the latest Health Care Report:

<i>For more of the most relevant news on the coronavirus outbreak, reports on groundbreaking health research in Wisconsin and links to top stories, sign up today for the free daily Health Care Report from and

Sign up here: </i>

— WMC’s Business World is launching two statewide business-focused competitions in partnership with Kwik Trip for students in grades 6-12.

Students will choose to create a new product for Kwik Trip convenience stores or to solve an intricate supply chain scenario. The top three entrants in each of the competitions will win $500.

“Wisconsin businesses and manufacturers have historically proven to be creative and resilient leaders in their communities,” said Wisconsin Business World Director Michelle Grajkowski. “Kwik Trip is a terrific example of the importance of innovation and we are excited to partner with them on these competitions.”

The competitions are open and entries are due March 15. The winners will be announced this spring. See more information: 

— Conagra Brands, Inc. is permanently closing its Milwaukee facility in early April, according to a notice sent to the state Department of Workforce Development.

The notice shows at least 190 employees are expected to be laid off on or within 14 days of April 2. 

See the notice: 

— Wisconsin-based M3 Insurance’s health tracker smartphone app recently hit 100,000 employee submissions. 

The app allows clients to track employees’ health status and verify COVID-19 symptom negativity. Originally launched by M3 in June, the app helps employees certify health status in less than a minute each day through a series of CDC-recommended questions that identify common COVID-19 symptoms. 

By offering employers full access to the data, including time-stamped documentation and flagged responses, the app helps facilitate a safe return for employees to a physical workplace environment. It’s also free for M3 clients.

“As the pandemic persisted in 2020, it became clear that our clients needed a better way to track employee symptoms in order to be able to provide a safe work environment, protect colleagues and communities, and avoid unnecessary liability,” said Cullen Maricque, M3 senior actuary and data scientist who developed the app. “The usage statistics have quickly proven this theory.”


# Madison man accused of making threats against businesses sentenced to probation in federal court 

# Wisconsin to join minority of states with no mask mandate 

# Natural Resources Board Approves New Rules For Sulfide Mining



– ‘Hope And Uncertainty’: 2021 Could Bring Better Farm Margins, But Questions Remain About Markets 

– Legislators Work with Ag Community to Update Farmland Preservation Program 


– Emergency rule could help students pursuing GED


– Abbott realizes near 10% growth in annual revenue behind sales of Covid-19 tests 

– CDC Finds ‘Little Evidence’ Of Schools Increasing Community COVID-19 Transmission 


– Northwestern Mutual Invests In Black Entrepreneurs 


– Seven months after layoff notice, Briggs & Stratton seeking 50 production workers in Wauwatosa 

– Central Standard Craft Distillery plans for June tasting room debut 


– Molson Coors to introduce ad campaign for Super Bowl LV 

– New owner of Fox Sports Wisconsin unveils new identity 


– Prominent golf developer offers his time, money to improve Madison’s Glenway Golf Course 


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

– Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association: Outlook for the U.S. labor market

– The 30th Street Industrial Corridor Corporation: Outlines plan for a shared-use trail in Milwaukee

– Kohl’s & American Cancer Society: Partner with hospitals, clinics to address transportation needs of cancer patients

– Wisconsin Business World & Kwik Trip: Announce virtual statewide competitions for students