Wisconsin finds old tech works

The World Wide Web often is touted as the golden solution for government's attempt to deliver services to the public, but Wisconsin's experience with its new unemployment insurance initial claims Web site shows the often-surprising gaps between expectations and reality.

The site (https://ucclaim-wi.org/InternetInitialClaims) went live in mid-December, and only about 3 percent of initial claims in the state are being made via the Internet. This figure is lower than that of most other states that have the same kind of system and lower than where Wisconsin hoped to be.

The reason, said Carol Laudenbach, director of benefits operations in the unemployment insurance division of Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development, is that the state's existing remote-access system is so successful, giving people no real incentive to turn to the Web site.

"We have a very efficient telephone initial-claims system, whereas other states have either the Internet or people have to go to an office to file their claims," she said. People are not going to go to the Internet because they are dissatisfied with the current method, nor is filing claims on the Internet being presented as the best or only alternative to office visits, she added.

State officials still have a "soft" goal of getting as many as 20 percent of initial claims filed over the Web, Laudenbach said, but that likely will come only with more extensive marketing of the program.

Nevertheless, the Web-based service is here to stay, she said. The pluses of the online program — less use of the toll-free number telephone service and more efficient use of staff resources — are too beneficial to abandon it. Moreover, it's simply the way government will be doing more of its business in the future.

The Web, however, does have other advantages. The claims division has started to keep track of where claims are coming from because collecting and comparing that data is easier via the Web. Laudenbach said that far more of the initial unemployment claims were from the rural north of the state rather than from the metropolitan areas around Milwaukee and elsewhere — the exact opposite of what was expected.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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