Extended Jobless Benefits Get Final Approval Today

Monday, August 1, 2011 at 11:06 PM by

The state Senate wrapped up work today on a bill (SB 147) that enables Wisconsin to use an estimated $88 million of federal funding to extend unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for up to 13 weeks, for people whose benefits would have run out after 73 weeks. The bill could benefit as many as 40,000 Wisconsinites between now and the end of the year, by using federal funding provided by Congress’ continuation last December of an important part of the Recovery Act.  

On a vote of 19 to 14 (with all the Republicans in favor and the Democrats against), the Senate concurred today with an Assembly amendment that rejected an earlier Senate change to the bill. The brief disagreement between the two houses was not over the extended benefits, but instead was over the issue of whether newly laid-off workers must wait a week before they become eligible for UI benefits. In a surprise move about two weeks ago, the Senate approved by voice vote an amendment to repeal the one-week wait that was created by the state budget bill.  However, the Assembly rejected that amendment, and today the Republican Senators decided to side with the Assembly, thereby completing work on SB 147 and allowing it to be sent to the Governor for his signature (without the repeal of the waiting period).

For many current jobless workers, the bill’s passage today is good news because it means that they are likely to be able to get the 13 weeks of extended UI benefits. For workers who become unemployed in the months ahead, the news isn’t so good, since rejection of the previous Senate amendment means they will have to wait a week before they become eligible for jobless benefits.

In a brief press release today, the Governor applauded the legislature for passing SB 147.  The Majority Leader, Senator Fitzgerald, issued a press release chastising Senate Democrats for voting to non-concur. His press release essentially argued that the vote on the amendment was equivalent to a vote on passage of the bill. (Note that when the Senate actually voted on passage two weeks ago, all 14 Democrats and 16 of the 19 Republicans voted for the amended bill.)  Not surprisingly, Senator Miller had a much different take on today’s session, focusing on the vote on the amendment as a choice about whether to cut jobless benefits by up to $56 million per year by approving the one-week waiting period.

Regardless of what one thinks of the amendment or how one characterizes today’s vote, the fact of the matter is that it resolved the impasse between the Senate and the Assembly, which means that the bill is on its way to Governor Walker. I presume the Governor will sign the bill very soon. After he does, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) will begin notifying people who are eligible for extended benefits. For more information, see the Extended Benefits portion of the DWD website

Today’s vote wraps up the summer special session, which was held primarily to rush through a reapportionment bill.  However, it doesn’t wrap up work on UI issues.  Wisconsin still has a deficit of about $1.3 billion in the UI trust fund, and the UI Advisory Council and Legislature will need to grapple with that daunting challenge in the months ahead.

Jon Peacock

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