June 4, 2021

 

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Joint Finance Committee Budget Update

This week, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) held an executive session to vote on a number of budget provisions. Each budget session, the JFC reviews budget provisions from the Governor’s budget, as well as motions submitted by legislators. The bipartisan committee reviews the provisions and motions and votes on whether to include them in the budget that will advance to both houses of the legislature. Since the budget contains hundreds of provisions, to keep things moving forward in an organized manner, they separate the provisions based on the state agency they impact or are related to. 

This week, the JFC's vote closed out provisions relating to the Department of Workforce Development, the Environmental Improvement Fund, certain issue areas within the Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Safety and Professional Services. So far, 33 agencies out of 62 are closed, so there's still quite a lot to be done before the budget is ready for a floor vote. The next JFC executive session will be on June 8th, and information on what departments are on the agenda can be found on the JFC notice.  

This week, a few of the items the JFC voted to include in the budget include:

  • Addressed challenges in the meat processing industry by approving 4 new State Meat Inspector positions and creating a Meat Processor Grant program. 
  • Increased Dairy Processor Grant program to $400,000 a year
  • Provided $750,000 in segregated funds (funds collected by and for a specific purpose) annually for local ATV and UTV trail and project aids
  • Provided $200,000 in segregated funds for county snowmobile aids
  • Provided additional $2 million for local youth apprenticeship grants
Audit on Unemployment Benefits 

The pandemic has been hard on employees and businesses around Wisconsin and the 36th Assembly District. I've heard from and worked with many who've never had to claim unemployment before and ran into issues and delays with the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) going through the process. 

Recently, the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) finished its audit of the unemployment reserve fund for fiscal years 2018/19 and 2019/20, and it shows some rather interesting things. A summary of the audit can be found online. The LAB found that the balance (net position) of this reserve fund decreased by $345.4 million from mid 2019 to mid-2020, and by the end of the 2020 fiscal year it ended at $1.7 billion. 

In addition to giving us an update on what the funding situation is like with unemployment, LAB also shared some insights on the workings of DWD. LAB determined that DWD didn't properly consider the significant unemployment claim backlog when assessing potential payable unemployment benefits. This is something I've seen to be true for constituents in the 36th Assembly District. LAB recommended DWD update their procedures for determining the amount of unemployment benefits that need to be paid out in the future, and I would expect DWD to make those updates. 

Also, the LAB recommended a DWD report a number of things to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, including:

  • Status of DWD's efforts to continue to process and pay benefits under federal programs
  • Determine financial relief that will be provided to employers for regular unemployment benefits paid out during the public health emergency
  • Determine if payments were ever incorrectly provided

Seeing the challenges and headaches that folks have encountered while trying to claim unemployment, I believe some changes and improvements need to be made. While I appreciate the difficulty of the process DWD faces in reviewing regular benefit claims, it's essential for employees and employers to get correct, clear determinations and information as soon as possible. I'm glad to see this is being taken seriously by the legislature and state, and look forward to working with my colleagues to address the issues that have been highlighted during the pandemic. 

Question of the Week: 
Licensing of 50/50 Raffles

Raffles are a big part of our state's community fundraising efforts, with 50/50 raffles being quite popular for many non-profits. In order to conduct one though, an eligible organization has to have an annual Class B license ($25) from the Department of Administration. 

For frequent high-scale community-based raffles, a license requirement can make more sense for many. However, some community organizations like the American Legion only hold a few smaller-scale 50/50 raffles annually, often for fundraising purposes. These smaller raffles operate on almost a completely different level from the larger ones, and most of the time, the winner of the smaller-scale raffles actually donates their winnings back to the organization. 

A new bill has been introduced that would create an exemption to purchase these 50/50 raffle licenses for organizations if their cash prize is $500 or less, ticket sales are limited to the organization's own membership, and if they comply with regular raffle conduct requirements. Supporters of the bill include the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).  

With the important role fundraising has in our local communities, I would like to hear your thoughts on this proposed bill. Please take a moment to answer my question of the week:

Click here for my Question of the Week

Last Week's Results:
UW-System COVID-19 Test & Vaccine Policy

I heard from many around the 36th Assembly District on last week's question of the week. The chart below represents the responses from constituents to the question that I received as of Friday morning. 

Budget Survey Available Online

The paper version of my budget survey seems to have hit mailboxes around the district recently. If you haven't received one or would rather fill it out online, you can access the digital version online on my webpage:

36th Assembly District Online Budget Survey

DWD Unemployment Inquiries

With the high number of unemployment claims being filed in Wisconsin and nationwide in recent months, delays in determinations and payments have been a too common occurrence. As a legislator, I'm able to reach out to DWD and make an inquiry on your behalf if you are experiencing issues or delays with your unemployment claim.

Click here to request an Unemployment Claim Inquiry

June Dairy Month 

June is celebrated each year as Wisconsin Dairy Month, and it's a great opportunity to sample some amazing dairy products from our great farmers in the state. A favorite way to enjoy Dairy Month is through a Dairy Breakfast. To find one near you, check out this helpful Dairy Breakfast Map.

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.