GOP Leaders: Pandemic Waivers For Unemployment Insurance Should End

Some state requirements for unemployment benefits in Wisconsin that were put on hold during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic will go back into effect in February, according to GOP leaders in the state Legislature.

During a Wednesday meeting with the state’s largest business group, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said temporary waivers of Wisconsin’s one-week waiting period and work search requirements for unemployment benefits will be allowed to expire early next year. 

Lawmakers approved waiving the one-week waiting period until Feb. 7 in their wide-ranging COVID-19 response legislation earlier this year. 

The work search waiver was first instituted through an emergency order from Gov. Tony Evers in March. When that order expired, his administration worked with lawmakers to approve an emergency rule to extend it. Those extensions were approved by the GOP-controlled rulemaking committee in September and November, with the latest extension set to expire on Feb. 2

During the virtual meeting with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce members on Wednesday afternoon, Vos argued the waivers shouldn’t be extended again because “Wisconsin’s unemployment has come down to a much more manageable number.”

“That one-week waiting period should probably remain and not be allowed to lapse again, so people are out looking for work as quick as they can,” Vos said.

The state unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in October, down from a high of 13.6 percent in April, according to the state Department of Workforce Development. 

Vos said the work search requirement was waived with the idea that the pandemic and its effect on jobs wouldn’t last as long as it has.

“Here we are, nine months later, and we still have folks who are not doing a work search even though their position has been permanently eliminated,” he said. “That’s probably not the right move.”

LeMahieu agreed: “There’s no way we can extend those (waivers) with the way unemployment is trending in the state of Wisconsin,” he said. 

A recent report from the National Federation of Independent Businesses found some employers are still grappling with worker shortages in Wisconsin, despite unemployment levels. 

Gov. Tony Evers proposed extending both unemployment-related waivers until January 2022 in his COVID-19 response proposal unveiled last month.

The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.