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GOP leaders discuss workforce shortage, increased enforcement of work search rules
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GOP leaders discuss workforce shortage, increased enforcement of work search rules

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As GOP bills aimed at striking $300 federal unemployment benefits in Wisconsin work their way through the Legislature, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday said the state should also consider boosting enforcement of job search requirements to get more people back to work.

The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. These cities have a disproportionate number of hospitality workers and have experienced high levels of unemployment.

Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, joined a panel of business owners hosted by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Wednesday to discuss workforce shortage issues in the state, which were present before the COVID-19 pandemic. Many who spoke during the roundtable discussion said enhanced unemployment benefits exacerbate those challenges.

“It was our biggest problem prior to COVID-19 and it has become an emergency,” said WMC president and CEO Kurt Bauer.

Vos, a business owner, said in addition to eliminating enhanced benefits, the state also needs to “push a little harder to get people off the sidelines.”

“It seems like in Wisconsin we do not do a very good job of No. 1 making it easy for an employer to report a no-show for an interview, and then doing anything about it,” Vos said.

DWD spokesman Tyler Tichenor said in an email there is no requirement for employers to report no shows for interviews.

An employer can report a job refusal to the department, which is reviewed by staff. Requests for additional information are then sent to the claimant and employer about the job refusal. After that, the issue would go through the adjudication process to determine if benefits should be denied, he added.

The Legislature’s GOP-led rules committee last month eliminated the state’s emergency rule waiving work search requirements in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

The work search waiver first went into effect in March 2020 and was set to expire in July. With the waiver eliminated, unemployed people again have to perform four work-search activities each week in order to obtain benefits.

The Assembly’s workforce committee voted along party lines Wednesday on legislation that would eliminate the state’s participation in enhanced federal unemployment benefits, which provide individuals on unemployment an extra $300 per week.

The GOP-authored legislation will be before a Senate committee Thursday and has strong support from Republican lawmakers and some of the state’s largest business organizations, but could be heading to an eventual veto by Gov. Tony Evers.

Expiring Sept. 6

Enhanced unemployment benefits provide individuals $300 in weekly unemployment benefits in addition to the state’s maximum weekly benefit of $370. Enhanced benefits are slated to expire Sept. 6.

“You can make a good argument that there was a need for supplemental benefits for some period of time,” bill author Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said last week. “I think the time for that has come to an end.”

Republican lawmakers and several of the state’s largest business organizations have said enhanced unemployment benefits have created a disincentive for some to find employment, which has exacerbated workforce shortage issues that were present before the pandemic.

“This has gone from an annoyance pre-pandemic to a crisis,” said Scott Mayer, chairman and CEO of Midwest employment agency QPS Employment Group. Mayer estimated the agency has close to 3,000 job openings in Wisconsin.

Other organizations and several Democratic lawmakers have defended the enhanced benefits as necessary for those unable to find work as sectors of the economy continue to reopen, or for those who are reluctant to return to in-person employment during the ongoing pandemic. They also say it puts pressure on employers to raise wages.

‘Lot of reasons’

Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, said last week increased child care offerings and affordable housing near employers would go further to help eliminate barriers to work and help with labor shortage challenges.

“There are a lot of reasons that there is a workforce shortage and it’s not necessarily the $300 in supplemental income,” Johnson said.

Evers has defended enhanced unemployment benefits and last month said he was “strongly considering vetoing” the GOP-authored bill if it reaches his desk.

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 3.9% in April, compared with 14.8% one year ago as the pandemic forced businesses to shut down.

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"You can make a good argument that there was a need for supplemental benefits for some period of time. I think the time for that has come to an end.”

State Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green

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