MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans want to end the $300-per-week federal unemployment supplement, which they said Tuesday hurts businesses that are struggling to fill vacancies as customers return amid a loosening of coronavirus restrictions.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Sen. Howard Marklein, chairman of the Legislature's budget committee, called on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to support the bill they unveiled with the support of a couple of Wisconsin business owners.
Evers, who could veto the bill, signaled his opposition. His spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said, "If Republicans are interested in putting this pandemic behind us, they'll stop playing politics with our economic recovery" and approve Evers' state budget proposal.
Democrats have generally been supportive of the additional unemployment payment, saying other barriers to work are fueling the worker shortage, not the $300. They also point out that Wisconsin's unemployment rate of 3.8% is below the national average of 6% and near what it was before the pandemic hit.
The bill comes after the state chamber of commerce, more than a dozen trade groups, more than 50 local chambers of commerce and others called on Evers to return the state's unemployment payments to pre-pandemic levels. Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Wisconsin's five Republican members of Congress last week also asked Evers to rescind the $300 payment.
More than a dozen states with Republican governors have moved to eliminate the $300 payment. That payment is on top of Wisconsin's weekly $370 unemployment benefit.
Ron Buholzer, one of the owners of Klondike Cheese Co. in Monroe, said he has 34 open positions now and has few applicants, despite raising starting salaries from $14 to $16 an hour.
"The help we have, they're getting tired," Buholzer said at a Capitol news conference. "They're long days, long hours, when you're short of people. ... The only way we can fix that is more people."
David Kyhn, owner of a Home Instead home health care franchise in Milwaukee, said he was in desperate need of workers. Higher wages and signing bonuses have done little to attract more applicants, he said.
"Nothing seems to work," Kyhn said. "The care we do have, they're stepping up, they're helping, but there's a level of burnout."
Under the bill, Wisconsin would no longer participate in four federal unemployment enhancement programs: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation.
It would also end a $300 weekly supplement payment. The supplement was included in President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus measure, approved in March, and set to expire on Sept. 6. Vos said he worried that the supplement may be extended.
Vos said businesses were not just competing with one another now, but also "the couch" because the higher unemployment benefits make people unmotivated to find a job.
"It's time we get back to work," Vos said. "The pandemic is ending. We need people to return to work."
Labor experts say the labor shortage is not just about the $300 payment. Some unemployed people have been reluctant to return to work because they fear catching the virus. Others have found new occupations. And many women, especially working mothers, have left the workforce to care for their children.
The bill also prohibits the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development from waiving work-search requirements for any reason that is related to COVID-19. Republicans moved forward with separate plans to reinstate the work requirement, with a legislative committee planning to vote Wednesday to suspend the state rule waiving the work search requirements. That waiver is set to expire in July.
If the rule is put back in place, unemployed people will have to perform four work-search activities weekly to obtain benefits.
The bill ending the $300 supplemental payment could be taken up by the Legislature as soon as next month, Vos said.
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