By Mitchell Schmidt, Wisconsin State Journal

As the state’s unemployment rate continues to decline, a COVID-19-related rule waiving the work search requirement while collecting unemployment benefits has been extended by a state rules committee.

With little discussion on Thursday, the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules approved 60-day extensions to a handful of suspensions to departmental rules. One of the suspended rules, administered by the Department of Workforce Development, traditionally requires those collecting unemployment benefits to show they are actively searching for employment.

Also on Thursday, DWD reported the state added 34,700 total non-farm and 16,700 private-sector jobs in August. The state’s unemployment rate for August was 6.2%, down from July’s revised rate of 7.1%.

Despite the drop, Wisconsin was still down nearly 200,000 private-sector jobs compared with a year ago, according to DWD. The unemployment rate was 3.1% in August 2019.

“While COVID-19 continues to hamstring economic recovery, especially in certain industries, DWD’s programming is available to help individuals safely reenter the workforce,” DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said in a statement.

The work search rule suspension that was extended on Thursday was originally passed in a COVID-19 response package signed by Gov. Tony Evers in April. Rules were suspended to allow more flexibility in the state’s unemployment insurance process and to allow easier access to benefits amid the pandemic.

Another suspension, which waives interest in some circumstances for employers facing reimbursement financing for delinquent payments due to COVID-19, also was extended by the committee on Thursday.

DWD reported last week that more than 6.5 million weekly unemployment claims had been filed since March 15. Of those, almost 11%, or 713,000 claims, were still being processed.

The department has taken heat over the last several months, largely from Republicans, for delays in processing unemployment claims. Some individuals report they’ve waited months without an answer on whether or not their claims will be approved.

Evers described the delays as “unacceptable” last week. He said he hopes all claims are resolved before the end of the year.

Claimants have been paid over $3.68 billion in unemployment benefits since March 15.