MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican legislators were poised Wednesday to reinstate a requirement that unemployed people look for work in order to qualify for benefits, part of a broader GOP effort to alleviate a statewide worker shortage.
The Legislature’s rules committee was scheduled to vote on reinstating the requirement during an afternoon meeting. Republicans control the committee, making it all but certain the requirement will return.
State Department of Workforce Development regulations require people seeking unemployment benefits to search for work at least four times a week. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order suspending the requirement in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold and businesses shut down.
Lawmakers have extended the suspension through emergency rules. But Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has fallen as the pandemic has waned — it now stands at 3.8%, far below the national average of 6% — and employers can’t find workers.
Republicans argue that generous unemployment benefits are encouraging people to stay home. Labor experts say it’s not just the benefits; some have been reluctant to return to work because they’re afraid of catching COVID-19, many women have left the workforce to care for their children and others have found new occupations, they say.
The work-search requirement is set to automatically take effect again in July, but Republicans don’t want to wait that long as businesses struggle to fill vacancies.
The vote is one prong of a larger Republican plan to erase generous pandemic-related unemployment benefits. The GOP on Tuesday unveiled a bill that would end a $300 weekly federal unemployment supplement. The payment is on top of the state’s weekly $370 unemployment benefit.
The supplement is set to expire Sept. 6, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he’s worried it could be extended. More than a dozen states with Republican governors have already moved to eliminate the federal supplement.
The bill also would prohibit the DWD from waiving work-search requirements for any reason related to COVID-19.
Vos has said the bill could get floor votes as early as next month. Evers opposes it, however, meaning the measure is likely destined for a veto.