Lawmakers to licensing agency: Fix your mess

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — The licensing debacle at Gov. Tony Evers’ Department of Safety and Professional Services might have been fixed much sooner had Evers sought the $5 million the Legislature’s budget writing committee made available nearly a year ago.

The co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee signed a letter on Wednesday approving the agency’s long-delayed request for the funds.

“We expect DSPS to apply these funds immediately and erase the hold-up for license holders,” said Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green). “The department could have requested these funds at any time throughout the last year and we are disappointed it has taken them this long to improve the licensure process. Our citizens deserve better.”

As Empower Wisconsin has reported, DSPS has become Evers’ latest Department of Workforce Development, a disaster of an agency that left tens of thousands of unemployed Wisconsinites waiting months — some more than a year — for their unemployment benefits. DSPS applicants, like DWD claimants, have been forced to remain on hold for hours to speak to someone. Scores have testified about lost paperwork, glacial response times, and mind-numbing bureaucratic hoops and hurdles.

“The current situation is creating chaos,” Dennis Kaster, president of the American Physical Therapy Association, said in his testimony before the committee investigating the agency.

In April, DSPS announced it would not accept initial license applications for 72 license types between noon, April 29 and May 15. The “blackout” was supposed to give tech crews time to transfer mountains of old paper files to an electronic system. Professionals from acupuncturists to wholesale distributors of prescription drugs were affected, delayed even longer.

Other licenses (initial applications and renewals) will transition to the LicensE system in subsequent phases, the agency said.

“The black-out period is a critical step to ensuring the successful launch of this new system,” DSPS stated in a press release.

But the backlog has piled up over the last year and a half. The Republican-controlled Legislature signed off on the $5 million for DSPS to upgrade its old system last year.

“Legislators across Wisconsin have heard from hundreds of individuals who have waited months for DSPS to approve and process licensing,” the JFC co-chairs said. “These individuals have waited, on hold, for hours to talk to someone – anyone – who could tell them where they are in the licensing process. They have walked up to the DSPS Customer Service counter to find it dark and called us in frustration as a result of the delays.”

Professionals in mental health care say the dysfunction at DSPS has only exacerbated a deepening mental health crisis in Wisconsin. Social workers, counselors, psychologists and others who are desperately needed on the front lines are being delayed by bureaucratic hoops and incompetency.

“The department has held up licenses for good paying jobs, tied the hands of health care providers and employers all over Wisconsin and neglected their work for the people of Wisconsin,” Born and Marklein said. “This is unacceptable and we expect DSPS to take aggressive, immediate action to clean-up their processes and transition all remaining licenses to the automated system so license holders in our state receive the services and support they deserve.”

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