State Republicans have revived bills targeting Wisconsin’s unemployment benefits, including one measure to reduce the number of weekly payments an individual could receive at times of low statewide unemployment.
The package of bills mirrors legislation that passed both chambers last legislative session but ultimately was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — a sign that the latest proposals could likely be heading for a similar fate.
Republicans unveiled the bills last week after more than 78% of Wisconsin voters approved a nonbinding question on the April 4 ballot asking voters: “Shall able-bodied childless adults be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits?”
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State law already requires those receiving unemployment benefits to conduct at least four work-search actions each week in order to receive benefits.
The Assembly Committee on Workforce Development and Economic Opportunities will discuss several of the proposed measures Wednesday.
Among the bills, AB 153 would tie the number of weekly unemployment benefits an individual could receive to the state’s overall unemployment rate. Currently, an individual can receive up to $370 in weekly state unemployment benefits for 26 weeks. Under the bill, the maximum number of weeks a claimant could receive benefits would be based on the state’s unemployment rate.
Claimants would receive 26 weeks of benefits if the state unemployment rate was greater than 9%, while the number of weekly benefits would be reduced to as few as 14 weeks if the rate was at 3.5% or lower.
Preliminary data from the state Department of Workforce Development show the state’s unemployment rate at 2.7% in February.
Other bills include:
AB 147, which would update state statutes for when an individual is discharged from employment for misconduct to also include the destruction of an employer’s records, theft or unauthorized possession of property, a violation of the employer’s absenteeism policy or a violation of the employer’s social media policy. Any individual who is fired for misconduct is not eligible for unemployment benefits.
AB 149 would require employers to inform the state workforce department of any ineligibility questions when notified of a claim for unemployment insurance. The bill would require DWD to consider reports of an individual declining a job offer or failing to attend a scheduled interview when determining a claimant’s eligibility for benefits.
AB 150 would change references to “unemployment insurance” in state statutes to “reemployment assistance.” The bill also would require DWD to enforce federal drug testing requirements for individuals claiming unemployment benefits in certain occupations. An individual who fails a drug test would be ineligible for benefits “until certain requalification criteria are satisfied or unless he or she enrolls in a substance abuse treatment program and undergoes a job skills assessment, and a claimant who declines to submit to a test is simply ineligible for benefits until he or she requalifies,” according to the bill.
Under the bill, DWD would have to create rules identifying occupations for which drug testing is required.
AB 152 would make various changes to how DWD operates, including implementing identify-proofing measures for benefits recipients, including requiring claimants to provide proof of identity when filing an initial unemployment insurance claim. The bill also would require DWD to expand call center hours if the volume of calls received increases dramatically.
Individuals trying to reach the agency faced considerable delays as a result of a deluge of claims during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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