The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is exploring options to waive the state’s one-week waiting period requirement for individuals to receive unemployment benefits, which could reopen the door to millions in lost federal COVID-19 dollars.
Last Friday, Gov. Tony Evers swiftly vetoed a GOP-authored COVID-19 relief package that came with more than 20 measures, including a temporary extension of a waiver of the one-week waiting period that was first enacted back in April — the last time the state passed coronavirus-related legislation. The one-week waiting period was reinstated Sunday, meaning the state looks to miss out on more than $1 million in federal reimbursement funding for each week the requirement is in place — for a total of $6.5 million over five weeks, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
But DWD spokeswoman Amy Barrilleaux said in an email the department is looking into potential avenues to administratively reinstate the waiver.
“DWD is exploring potential options related to waiving the waiting period,” Barrilleaux said. “Without that waiver, people will face a delay in their initial payment, exacerbating the financial impacts of the pandemic.”
Unemployment dollars included in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act are awarded to states that waive the one-week waiting period and fully fund unemployment benefits in a claimant’s first week of joblessness.
With the waiting period in place, claimants must wait one week before collecting such benefits. DWD received more than 15,500 initial claims for the week ending Jan. 30 alone, Barrilleaux said.
DWD on Thursday announced a new emergency rule had been published to allow the department to continue to waive the state’s requirement that unemployment recipients search for other employment while receiving benefits.
“The rule also continues to ease eligibility for people who would work but cannot for COVID-related reasons, such as being quarantined or subject to subsequent stay-at-home orders,” DWD said in a statement.
Barrilleaux said the department was able to waive the work search requirement under current state and federal law, but did not provide additional details on if and how the department could waive the one-week waiting rule.
Following more than a month of debate and amendments, the GOP-led Legislature sent a COVID-19 relief package to Evers’ desk. The package included several items Evers had agreed to when originally approved by the Senate in January, but additions — such as measures to limit the governor’s use of emergency orders and give Republicans in the Legislature authority over how to spend all future federal COVID-19 dollars that the state receives — led to the proposal’s eventual veto by the Democratic governor.
Earlier this week, Democrats introduced the provisions originally included in the Senate version of the package as 22 stand-alone bills with hopes that some could reach Evers’ desk.
“These important provisions, which were supported by Republicans and Democrats alike during the discussions around Assembly Bill 1, need to be passed into law swiftly,” Rep. Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa, said in a statement. “If not by omnibus, then by stand-alone bills. There’s no excuse to wait any longer to provide the help Wisconsinites need.”
One of the 22 proposed bills would continue the state’s temporary waiver of the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits.
The offices of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, did not respond to requests for comment on whether the GOP-led chambers plan to take up the individual bills, including one to reinstate the one-week waiting period waiver.
Like many states, Wisconsin has been inundated with unemployment claims since the COVID-19 pandemic began, while DWD has faced mounting ridicule for its slow response to addressing the backlog of claims. State Republicans have placed the blame on Evers’ administration, while DWD officials have said an unprecedented number of claims, paired with GOP-authored unemployment laws, complicated the adjudication process and exacerbated delays.