MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.5% in June, good news that came Thursday as Democratic lawmakers released proposals to remove obstacles and broaden access to unemployment benefits.
The jobless numbers also came as Gov. Tony Evers’ administration temporarily reassigned 100 state workers to help address a backlog in claims.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate last month was far below the national rate of 11.1% and down from the state’s high of 13.6% in April. That figure reflected the height of businesses closing across the state in response to a “safer at home” order issued by Evers to slow the spread of the virus. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 12.1% in May.
“Another month of strong job growth and a declining unemployment rate tells us that more Wisconsinites are getting back to work, driving our economic growth,” said Department of Workforce Secretary Caleb Frostman. “The road to full economic recovery will be long and challenging, but the continued month-over-month progress is encouraging for Wisconsin’s workers and employers.”
The report shows Wisconsin added 99,300 private sector jobs in June.
The Department of Workforce Development has struggled to process the claims of everyone seeking unemployment. Currently about 141,000 people were awaiting payments, a backlog that Republicans who control the Legislature have loudly criticized.
Democratic lawmakers on Thursday introduced a package of bills they said would remove hurdles to getting the benefits. Republicans have proposed tapping federal funding to pay benefits while people await verification that they qualify. Evers dismissed that idea on Monday as a “political stunt.”
The Democratic bills would, among other things, lower the work search requirement necessary from four to two per week in order to receive benefits. The bills would also allow people with disabilities who are able to work to be eligible to receive unemployment. The bills would further expand the authority of the Department of Workforce Development to increase access to unemployment benefits when appropriate.
Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke responded to the proposals saying that “Democrats are feeling the heat of Tony Evers’ failures.”
“The Evers’ administration’s response to this unemployment crisis has been nothing short of a dumpster fire,” Steineke said in a statement. “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.”
Steineke said the proposals do nothing to address problems at the department and will only expand the number of people eligible for benefits.
Evers’ administration on Thursday said it was reassigning 100 state workers to help with the processing of claims. It said the reassignments average six weeks. Combining transfers, new hires and contracted vendors, the Department of Workforce Development has more than tripled the number of workers who are processing unemployment claims from 500 to 1,800, Evers’ administration said.