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Wisconsin Democrats’ unemployment fix: Make it easier for more people to ask for benefits

The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.

(The Center Square) – More than 140,000 people in Wisconsin continue to wait in a months-long backlog for their unemployment claims to be processed. Despite that fact, Democrats at the State Capitol want to make it easier for more people to ask for unemployment benefits.

Legislative Democrats on Thursday unveiled their plan to help people seeking unemployment.

The centerpiece is two pieces of legislation.

LRB 6254 would change the definition of what is “suitable work” and allow the state’s Department of Workforce Development to make its own rules about which jobs people receiving unemployment would be required to fill. Not taking offered work can disqualify someone from getting or keeping their unemployment benefits.

LRB 6256 would allow DWD to change the rules for work requirements altogether, along with changing the state’s requirement that people on unemployment look for work.

Sen. John Erpenbach, D-Oshkosh, is sponsoring the plans.

“These bills are a part of a package that will help Wisconsinites access the resources they need,” Erpenbach said. “In the 100-plus days since the declared public health emergency started, GOP legislators have only met one time to pass a band aid fix to the problems that our state is facing, while making statements acknowledging that more needs to be done.”

The “fix” that Erpenbach is talking about is the law that waived the one-week waiting period for people to get unemployment benefits from the state.

It hasn’t been entirely successful. DWD continues to lag behind. More than 140,000 people in Wisconsin are still waiting for their unemployment claims to be processed. DWD has consistently said it could take until October to process the claims that are currently in that backlog.

Erpenbach and the Democrats in Madison didn’t mention that in their proposal.

But Republicans in Madison did.

“It’s clear that after months of failing their constituents and the thousands of Wisconsinites awaiting unemployment benefits from the Evers administration, Wisconsin Democrats are feeling the heat of Tony Evers’ failures,” Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said. “The Evers administration’s response to this unemployment crisis has been nothing short of a Dumpster fire. The tired proposals trotted out today would only serve to expand eligibility to an already strained system and fuel the flames of the problem at hand.

“Republicans have been advocating for changes to be made for weeks, making the case to Governor Tony Evers that swift steps must be made to help struggling Wisconsinites,” Steineke added. “As recently as last week, Assembly Republicans suggested that the governor utilize a modest portion of the remaining federal CARES Act package to immediately provide assistance to those experiencing delays – a proposal Evers callously dismissed as a ‘stunt.’”

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