Lawmakers introduce bills aimed at removing barriers to qualifying for unemployment insurance

MADISON, Wis. — State lawmakers on Thursday introduced a package of legislation aimed at removing barriers to qualifying for unemployment insurance.

The eight bills tackle multiple areas of the unemployment insurance system, from modifying work-search requirements to making it easier for the Department of Workforce Development to create rules.

Legislative Democrats, who are behind the legislation, said they want to eliminate the “numerous, unnecessary barriers” that were added during former Gov. Scott Walker’s administration that they blame for a backlog in adjudicated claims. Republicans backed more than a dozen laws throughout Walker’s tenure they said minimized waste, fraud and abuse of the system.

“Families and businesses across Wisconsin are facing unprecedented challenges,” said Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh and the Assembly Democratic Leader, in a news release about the package. “These bills can help improve and accelerate the process for people who need help now.”

The DWD has seen an unprecedented level of weekly claims filed for unemployment insurance since shutdowns began in March. While the vast majority of the more than 4 million claims have been paid, thousands of Wisconsinites have still not received any benefits.

“A quicker turnaround on an unemployment claim could literally be the difference between someone being evicted or staying in their home,” Hintz said. “State government must take every decisive action possible to eliminate unnecessary hurdles that have slowed down the process for people applying for unemployment insurance.”

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, said he is the lead on two bills, one that changes the definition of “suitable work” a claimant must accept if offered, and the bill that makes it easier for the DWD to promulgate rules.

“These bills are a part of a package that will help Wisconsinites access the resources they need,” Erpenbach said in a news release.

Erpenbach said he hopes Evers will call the legislature into special session to pass the bills “as soon as possible.”

Republicans in the legislature have blamed what they call failed leadership in Gov. Tony Evers’ administration for the delay in payments. Assembly Republicans created a proposal to use $40 million of the state’s CARES Act funds to offer zero-interest loans to some of those in need of financial assistance while they wait for their claims to be adjudicated.

Assembly Majority Leader Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said the response from the Evers administration has been “nothing short of a dumpster fire” and said Democrats are feeling the heat from Evers’ response.

“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.

A full description of the bills, as provided in a news release from Hintz’s office, is below.

LRB 6244 – Wisconsin is one of only two states that prevent people with disabilities who are able to work from receiving unemployment benefits. This bill would allow social security disability (SSDI) recipients to receive concurrent unemployment insurance benefits.

LRB 6246 -Under current law, individuals cannot receive extended UI benefits when participating in extended occupational training. This bill would reinstate the ability of those participating in extended occupational training to receive extended UI benefits.

LRB 6249 – Currently, claimants are ineligible for UI during weeks where they hit a wage threshold. This bill would temporarily suspend the $500 wage threshold for recipients of unemployment insurance benefits.

LRB 6254 – The current definition of “suitable work” creates challenges for claimants. This bill reinstates DWD’s authority to determine by administrative rule what constitutes suitable work a claimant must accept if offered, and what labor market conditions to review based on the number of weeks that the claimant has received benefits.

LRB 6256 – Several laws enacted over the last decade have restricted DWD’s ability to increase access to unemployment insurance when appropriate. This bill expands DWD’s authority to promulgate rules that provide waivers for work search and job registration requirements.

LRB 6257 – Currently, payments on valid unemployment insurance claims are delayed for one week. This bill would permanently eliminate the requirement that claimants wait one week before receiving benefits.

LRB 6265 – Currently, claimants are required for perform four work searches per week. This bill lowers the required work searches from four to two per week and repeals the provision allowing DWD to require by rule additional work searches.

LRB 6362 – The concept of substantial fault has caused confusion for both employers and employees and when employees are entitled to benefits when they are discharged by their employers. This bill would eliminate the concept of substantial fault being a disqualifying factor.