unemployment application (By Chansom Pantip/Shutterstock.com)

Wisconsin clears UI backlog with cloud-based AI

Cloud technology has helped the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) clear its 2020 backlog of unemployment insurance (UI) claims while also speeding response time to new ones.

So far, the state has distributed $2 billion in unemployment benefits and processes an average of 157,000 claims each week, releasing payment to residents within two to three business days.  That process used to take weeks or months, Brent Mitchell, director of state and local government within Google Cloud Public Sector, wrote in an Aug. 11 blog post.

“Like many workforce development agencies nationwide, last year, DWD experienced a deluge of claims filed in response to the COVID-19 economic fallout,” Mitchell said. “DWD’s legacy UI infrastructure -- largely written in the COBOL computing language and hosted on a mainframe server -- was no match for the volume and complexity of cases. Wisconsin’s multiple technology systems required a large amount of manual processing, with staff using spreadsheets to manually calculate benefit adjustments. As a result, the state just couldn’t keep up with the surge of claims, and it needed to pivot quickly to a new solution to keep up with demand.” 

Between March and December 2020, the department hired, contracted or reassigned 1,300 individuals to help with the backlog. GCN reported in October that nearly 81,000 people were waiting for claims to be approved or denied. Two months later, DWD announced it had cleared its backlog and would resume its prepandemic goal of addressing claim issues within 21 days.

Mitchell attributed that success to modernizing existing technology with Google Cloud’s DocAI solution and its artificial intelligence and machine learning products. The former allows state workers to make faster decisions by extracting critical data from documents, removing manual processes and saving time.

“Through a combination of design thinking, deep partnership with state officials and modern technology, DWD’s solutions are tailored to maximize benefits to the constituents they’re designed to serve,” he said.

AI and ML allow the state to create predictive analytics based on historical data to shorten the adjudication decision-making for claims and release payments to eligible residents quicker. Additionally, they help DWD identify where in the process a claimant was stuck.

“We were also successful in screening out fraudulent claims so that the UI program could be administered -- with integrity -- to Wisconsinites who needed financial assistance,” he added.

New York is also using Google Cloud for a redesigned unemployment insurance application that integrated the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance process, and West Virginia signed on with Google Cloud last October to give full access to enterprise-level Google Workspace capabilities to all 22,000 state employees. In March, Rhode Island announced that it had partnered with Google Cloud to launch a Virtual Career Center, part of the state’s Back to Work RI initiative.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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