Editorial: Why won’t Wisconsin Republicans work with Evers to aid unemployed workers?

Cap Times editorial

The coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis that has extended from it have increased unemployment in Wisconsin and across the country. It has also shined a light on problems with Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance system. Too many jobless Wisconsinites have had to wait too long for the benefits that were owed to them.

Gov. Tony Evers wants to fix it.

In his State of the State address last week, Evers spoke with a sense of urgency that is needed at a point when the economy remains unstable and when jobless numbers have been rising.

"This past year brought to bear the inaction of my predecessors and members of this and previous legislatures who avoided their responsibility and duty for far too long," the governor said. "Well, I’ll tell you this: it’s gone on long enough. It ends tonight."

To be clear, the Evers administration is not blameless for the delays, which piled up so high that Evers asked for and accepted the resignation of then-Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman in September.

But Evers' words last week were not idle ones. Evers signed an executive order calling on the Legislature to convene in special session to take up modernization legislation that proposes to address the problems with the unemployment insurance system.

Unfortunately, the Republicans who control the Assembly and Senate rejected the call to action — despite the fact that they've spent most of the past year criticizing Evers for not doing enough to address systemic problems that have slowed down the processing of unemployment claims.

Republicans should be jumping at the chance to work with the governor on an issue they claim to care about. Instead, they're refusing to act.

We share the frustration of state Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, who has been a leader on these issues — pressing Evers and legislators from both parties to act — at this obstruction.

“My Republican colleagues and I agree that it is unacceptable for folks in our state to experience such significant hurdles and delays when accessing the unemployment benefits they are eligible for,” Shankland said. “Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen how delays can affect our constituents’ lives, particularly those who are already struggling to make ends meet. That’s why I’m baffled by my colleagues’ refusal to convene to act on modernizing our state’s unemployment insurance system.”

Shankland noted that last summer, she and her Democratic colleagues introduced a package of eight bills outlining changes that could be made "immediately" to streamline the application and processing of claims and to expand eligibility — but the proposals were ignored by Republicans.

"A few promising provisions were included in Assembly Bill 1, but this legislation’s future is uncertain due to disagreement between Republican leadership in the Senate and the Assembly," Shankland said. "Now, Gov. Evers has put forth new suggested legislation, which Republican leadership is strangely refusing to discuss. How will we fix the problem if we can’t even meet to discuss it?”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, owe Shankland — and every unemployed worker in Wisconsin — an answer.