The Senate has approved a series of bills that would revamp the unemployment program and add new restrictions on medical assistance that donors say would help people get out of government safety net programs and get them back on track. integrate into the labor market.
This includes enforcing drug testing requirements to qualify for food stamps and cutting off able-bodied adults from Medicaid who refuse a job offer.
The bills are all now heading for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Supporters of the package said the bills seek to address a labor shortage in Wisconsin as employers across the state struggle to fill vacancies. The problem existed before the pandemic, but supporters said the problem was exacerbated by COVID-19.
Sen. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, argued the bills aren’t just about helping employers. He argued that work is part of human nature and that the bills were meant to encourage people to succeed.
“Work is something that keeps us alive, keeps us healthy, connects us to the community,” Kooyenga said. “Working is good.”
But Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, said the bills will do nothing to address the state’s labor shortage. Instead, he argued, they target the working poor who are already working and struggling to get by in the jobs they do. The bills threaten the help they need to get by.
“We prepare people to lose,” Erpenbach said.
* AB 883, which would rename unemployment insurance “re-employment assistance”. It would also add additional job search requirements and direct the Department of Workforce Development to enact rules for drug test applicants. The bill also includes a provision that would require the governor to use federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act to pay employers payments of up to $2,000 for hiring long-term unemployed workers who lose their jobs in due to COVID-19. It went 21-12.
* AB 934, which would require the Department of Health Services to check the eligibility status of childless adults for the Medical Assistance Program every six months to determine if they can remain in the program. If participants do not timely report a change in their status related to their eligibility, they are expelled from the program for six months. The bill passed 20-13 with Sen. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, joining Dems in voting no.
* AB 935, which would require health departments to enforce drug screening, testing and treatment for the FoodShare program; these requirements are currently waived due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It went 21-12.
* AB 936, which would prohibit able-bodied adults from remaining on the medical assistance program if they refuse a job offer or an increase in work hours or wages. They would be ineligible for six months after the date it was discovered they had declined the offer. The bill includes exceptions such as someone who works 40 hours a week and does not accept hours beyond that, as well as able-bodied adults over 65, those who are physically or mentally unfit to work. employment, those who are pregnant or within six months of giving birth, full-time students and the person caring for a child under the age of 13 or 19 if the child is disabled. The bill has been amended to create an additional exemption for the carer of a disabled or elderly dependant. It went 21-12.
* AB 937, which would index the maximum number of weeks of unemployment benefits that can be claimed to the unemployment rate. If the rate is 3.5% or less – as it is now – the maximum number of weeks would be 14. The current maximum of 26 weeks could only be claimed if unemployment was above 9% . It briefly eclipsed that in April and May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, it was above 9% in February 2010, as the country emerged from the “great recession”. He went 19-14 with GOP Sens. Steve Nass of Whitewater and Van Wanggaard of Racine opposed.
* AB 938, which would expand the definition of misconduct to mean that terminated employees are not eligible for unemployment. Among other things, people fired for violating a company’s social media policy would not be eligible for benefits. It went 21-12.
*AB 939, which would penalize those who refuse or do not show up for a job interview, as well as those who do not respond. Under the bill, an unemployed person would not be eligible for unemployment any week in which a candidate failed to do one of these three. It went 21-12.