May 29, 2020

  

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Wisconsin's Current Unemployment Insurance Issues

When you try to call the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) these days, you are lucky to get through to a member of the department's staff. Visitors to the DWD's website are told the agency is "experiencing an unprecedented call volume" and to call at a certain time according to the first letter of your last name. The department is experiencing record high call volumes, they received 3,099,071 calls the week of May 16th alone on unemployment, a decrease from the 5,354,962 calls they received the first week of May.

Despite the record high volume of calls and claims, it doesn't change the fact that delays have caused confusion, concern and financial difficulties for citizens seeking unemployment. While the agency is in the process of hiring hundreds more staff members and expanding their hours to help improve access, issues still remain. Only two of the three new federal programs created by the CARES Act have been implemented so far in Wisconsin. There is a backlog in unpaid claims which DWD estimates may take them until this fall to get through.

I've continued to be an advocate for my constituents and Wisconsinites who are dealing with unemployment, and will continue to push for faster resolution and better access to DWD. My staff and I have worked with numerous constituents over the last few months who've had issues with their unemployment and will continue to do so. Please feel free to reach out to me if you are experiencing any delays or issues with your unemployment claims or applications, and I'll do what I can to assist. 

Absentee Ballot Application Changes

This week, the bipartisan Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) unanimously voted to use about $2.3 million of the funding set aside for elections in the CARES Act to send absentee ballot applications to nearly all registered Wisconsin voters. The state would not send applications to people who already have requested an absentee ballot, who are flagged as having potentially moved, or who are not registered voters. 

Upon receiving the application, voters would still have to mail back in the application form, and any identification material, in order to receive an absentee ballot if they wish to vote that way. No ballots would be sent out to registered voters without a completed application form being returned and all identification requirements fulfilled. The commission also voted to spend up to $4.1 million in federal grants to help local clerks offset the cost of the expected increase in absentee voting requests this fall. 

CARES Act Money Going to Local Governments

I'm pleased to share that Wisconsin's local governments will be receiving grant aids through the Routes to Recovery Local Government Aid Grants Program, funded by the CARES Act. This funding will help our local governments address urgent and unique COVID-19 recovery needs, and will be allocated to every Wisconsin county, city, village, town and federally recognized tribe. The funds can be spent on emergency operations, purchases of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, temporary housing for infected or at risk individuals, and sick leave for public health and safety employees. 

The allocation of grant funds is based on the population of the county or municipality. The full breakdown of the allocation for counties and local governments can be found online. While there are too many local governments to go into details on my e-update, the county allocations for the 36th Assembly District are:

  • Forest County - $149,488
  • Langlade County - $326,549
  • Marinette County - $673,078
  • Menominee County - $69,338
  • Oconto County - $630,435
  • Shawano County - $679,159
$10 Million in Funding Sent to Local Health Clinics in Wisconsin

Our local health clinics and departments are the ones on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, helping care for our citizens in the state's most under-served populations. In order to support these local efforts, the Department of Health Services (DHS) will provide $10 million in funding to reimburse these local health clinics for COVID-19 expenses.

Rural health clinics, tribal health clinics, community health centers, and free and low cost clinics are all eligible for this funding. The funding will help them recover the costs of some of their COVID-19 expenses and help them continue to provide healthcare to some of our more under-served and vulnerable populations. I'm glad to see funding being directed towards rural and community health providers, who have been providing critical services to our residents. 

$70 Million in Cuts Made to Wisconsin State Agencies

In light of the expected state revenue losses due to the pandemic, the State of Wisconsin has taken steps to make sure that our budget accurately reflects what we have to work with and that we aren't spending beyond our means. To adapt to the losses, state agencies have worked with the Evers Administration to identify ways to save $70 million in state spending, which amounts to about a 5% reduction. While this is just the first of many tough decisions, these reductions will immediately help save a significant amount of tax dollars. The full reduction breakdown can be found on the Department of Administration's website. 

While overall I am pleased by these initial reductions, one reduction does concern me. We are experiencing record unemployment claims, but the Department of Administration chose to cut over $350,000 in funding to the Department of Workforce Development. Though I agree with the importance of reducing budgets, I'm concerned that the reduction in this department may negatively impact the unemployment claim process, and am not sure that this is the right time or place to make a reduction to that agency. 

COVID-19 Quick Links

Below are some quick links to essential COVID-19 resources and information:

Follow the Legislative Action

In order to stay up to date on any legislation, proposals, or your legislator, a free notification service is available through the Wisconsin State Legislature's website. You can sign up for nightly personalized email notifications based on our state's legislative activity. This is a wonderful way to stay informed about state politics and proposals that you are interested in.

Contacting My Office

My office is here to help you with both general inquiries and questions or concerns regarding legislative or state matters. Feel free to contact me or my staff if you ever need anything. I'm always ready to assist you in your needs. 

You can also visit my website for more information, press releases, past e-updates, and more!