Extension of Unemployment Benefits Put on Fast Track for Legislative Action
A few weeks ago it appeared highly unlikely that Wisconsin was going to accept an estimated $88 million of federal funding (through the Recovery Act) for extended jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. Wisconsin is one of only nine states that haven’t accepted those funds, among about 40 states that are eligible for the extended benefits (which are fully funded with federal dollars). A small legislative change is needed to implement the federally-funded 13-week extension of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, but the Legislature failed to make that change before adjourning for the summer, and the majority party appeared uninterested in taking up the issue.
However, GOP leaders have now gotten behind the legislation needed to receive the federal funding and allow the long-term unemployed to receive benefits for up to 86 weeks (compared to the current 73-week limit). On Thursday July 7, bills making the change (SB 147 and AB 197) were introduced in both houses of the Legislature, and on Monday they got a public hearing in a joint meeting of Senate and Assembly committees, and they were voted on in both committees.
The Senate committee unanimously recommended SB 147 for passage, and there was only one dissenting vote in the Assembly committee against the identical Assembly version. The bills have now been scheduled for floor votes next week (probably July 19), during a special session called primarily for the purpose of fast-tracked action on a reapportionment bill.
Eligibility for extended benefits ended in Wisconsin in mid-April of this year, and the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) estimated that about 10,000 jobless workers began losing the extended benefits at that time. DWD indicated Monday that it now projects that between 23,000 and 40,000 people will be affected. That’s the cumulative number of people expected to reach the current 73-week limit by January 4, 2012, when federal law is scheduled to end the extended benefits.
When Jason Stein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a June 20th article about the extended benefit option, the prospects for authorizing the additional 13 weeks in Wisconsin seemed very slim. Joint Finance Committee co-chair Robin Voss had expressed strong reservations about extended UI benefits, and the WI Manufacturers and Commerce association (WMC) voiced similar concerns. However, WMC subsequently reversed course and voted for the change in the UI Advisory Committee, citing increased signs of economic weakness as justifying an infusion of federally-funded extended benefits. Since then, the opposition has largely evaporated, and it now appears extremely likely that the bill will sail through both houses next week.
There are plenty of substantive reasons for advancing the proposed legislation, but there are also political reasons to do it now. For example, I suspect that for some legislators it is useful political cover for convening a special session next week, which would otherwise meet for the sole purpose of pushing through a fast-tracked reapportionment bill.
For additional information about UI benefits and extended benefits, see WCCF’s recent one-page factsheet.