GOP lawmakers want to eliminate extra $300/week federal unemployment benefits to address workforce shortages

NOW: GOP lawmakers want to eliminate extra $300/week federal unemployment benefits to address workforce shortages

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Republican lawmakers are seeking to eliminate extra federal unemployment benefits aimed to address a workforce shortage as some employers are struggling to fill positions.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) introduced a bill that would end the additional $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits to “help Wisconsin’s economy continue its recovery.”

“We’re no longer competing with other employers, we’re no longer competing with Illinois...we’re competing with the couch,” Marklein said during a press conference.

As of Tuesday, 21 other states have opted out of the unemployment insurance enhancers which are set to expire on Sept. 6.

Republicans believe it’s time to remove incentives which they said are part of the reason why people are staying home instead of looking for work.

“Don’t forget if you are unemployed today, you are making $16.75/hour and not required to look for work,” said Vos. “If employers are hiring at $14/hour how many people are going to make that choice?”

David Kyhn, owner of Home Instead Senior Care which provides caregiving services in Milwaukee and Waukesha, said he’s desperate to hire employees after noticing a 75% decline in applications this year.

“It’s very frustrating, we’ve increased our wages by 25%, we’ve offered very generous signing bonuses and nothing seems to work,” said Kyhn.

Worker rights advocates argue some industries don’t pay enough and are asking workers to do much more for far less. Some Democrats also oppose the GOP-backed bill because it’s difficult to pay or find child care as some day care centers remain closed and some schools still offer online learning.

“(Child care) is a big inhibitor to getting people back to the workforce,” said Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee). “It just stands out to be particularly cruel to cut people off from this additional benefit.”

The IRS is also expected to start sending monthly child tax credits in July, which was part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Those eligible can receive up to $300 per kid, depending on their age. This is another reason why Sen. Larson said now is not the time to “pull away benefits from people in need and force them to take low wage, high risk work.”

Speaker Vos and Sen. Marklein said they are open to negotiating with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on their proposal as they’ll need his signature in order for it to become law.

An Evers spokeswoman said "if Republicans are interested in putting this pandemic behind us, they’ll stop playing politics with our economic recovery and pass the governor’s Badger Bounceback agenda so we can invest in making health care more affordable, supporting our kids and our public schools and building infrastructure and creating jobs across our state."

The move also comes as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce urged Evers in a letter to immediately end the state’s participation in the extra weekly unemployment benefits because “there is a great likelihood that long-term and irreversible damage will be done to Wisconsin’s economy,” wrote Kurt Bauer, WMC president/CEO.

Legislative committee to vote on reinstating work search requirements

This week, Republicans on the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) will move to suspend Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development (DWD) emergency rule that waives work search requirements for those collecting unemployment insurance benefits.

Co-chair of the committee, Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), said removing the waiver, which was put in place because of the pandemic, is critical to helping the worker shortage.

“The Department of Workforce Development has the power to end the emergency rule early on its own authority,” Nass said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Governor Evers and his administration is ignoring the critical shortage of workers impacting almost every sector of the state’s economy.”

The committee has the power to eliminate the wavier without approval from Gov. Evers.

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