Wisconsin has been too slow in responding to the surge in applications for unemployment benefits. There’s plenty of blame to go around for this. But at least Wisconsin’s Democratic legislators want to address the challenges that have arisen since COVID-19 devastated the economy.
The same cannot be said for the Republicans who control the state Assembly and Senate. Rather than step up and act in a meaningful way, Republicans are attacking people who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic and the mass unemployment that has expended from it.
The contrast could not be more stark — or more concerning.
A legislative package introduced by Democrats would expedite the process of getting unemployment insurance to Wisconsinites by removing hurdles — many of which were established during the tenure of former Gov. Scott Walker.
“This pandemic is revealing that the challenges within the Wisconsin unemployment system are the direct result of the Walker administration’s efforts to make collecting unemployment benefits harder,” said Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Mason. “In Madison or Milwaukee, or closer to my home in Ashland or Rice Lake, people are suffering because the Republicans who control the Legislature aren’t doing anything.”
Here’s an explanation of the measures Democrats propose to remove what Bewley correctly described as “unnecessary and punitive barriers” to aiding Wisconsinites who are out of work:
- LRB 6244: Wisconsin is one of only two states that prevent people with disabilities who are able to work from receiving unemployment benefits. This bill would allow Social Security disability (SSDI) recipients to receive concurrent unemployment insurance benefits.
- LRB 6246: Under current law, individuals cannot receive extended UI benefits when participating in extended occupational training. This bill would reinstate the ability of those participating in extended occupational training to receive extended UI benefits.
- LRB 6249: Currently, claimants are ineligible for UI during weeks where they hit a wage threshold. This bill would temporarily suspend the $500 wage threshold for recipients of unemployment insurance benefits.
- LRB 6254: The current definition of “suitable work” creates challenges for claimants. This bill reinstates DWD’s authority to determine by administrative rule what constitutes suitable work a claimant must accept if offered, and what labor market conditions to review based on the number of weeks that the claimant has received benefits.
- LRB 6256: Several laws enacted over the last decade have restricted DWD’s ability to increase access to unemployment insurance when appropriate. This bill expands DWD’s authority to promulgate rules that provide waivers for work search and job registration requirements.
- LRB 6257: Currently, payments on valid unemployment insurance claims are delayed for one week. This bill would permanently eliminate the requirement that claimants wait one week before receiving benefits.
- LRB 6265: Currently, claimants are required to perform four work searches per week. This bill lowers the required work searches from four to two per week and repeals the provision allowing DWD to require by rule additional work searches.
- LRB 6362: The concept of substantial fault has caused confusion for both employers and employees and when employees are entitled to benefits when they are discharged by their employers. This bill would eliminate the concept of substantial fault being a disqualifying factor.
“These bills can help improve and accelerate the process for people who need help now,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. “State government must take every decisive action possible to eliminate unnecessary hurdles that have slowed down the process for people applying for unemployment insurance.”
Unfortunately, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, does not share Hintz’s urgency.
“Democrats,” Vos claimed, “simply want to make it easier to stay on unemployment and cheat the system.”
That’s a grotesque statement from a millionaire politician who has completely lost touch with working-class Wisconsinites.
People who lose their jobs are not trying to cheat the system. But Vos is still trying to cheat unemployed Wisconsinites out of the benefits they deserved — and desperately need.
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