GOP lawmakers vote to end $300 weekly unemployment bonus

By Emilee Fannon

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Republican lawmakers passed legislation that would stop giving unemployed people an extra $300 a week, a federal program launched to help people during the pandemic.  

The proposal passed in both chambers on a party line vote, with all Republicans in support and Democrats voting in opposition.  

Republicans want to end Wisconsin's participation in the federal program that gives an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits because they believe it's worsening the worker shortage.  

"Every possible career is in short supply," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester). "How many of us have seen a sign that they are reducing hours at a business, not because they don't have the demand or the customers, but because they don't have the staff to wait on people." 

Gov. Tony Evers last week indicated he doesn't believe taking away the weekly bonus would fix employers' hiring problems and is expected to veto the GOP bill. 

Democrats also argue the worker shortage is years in the making and say not enough is being done to attract people to work in Wisconsin.  

"We have to look at it...comprehensively and with a keen eye on statewide solutions to pressing problems," said Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point). "Including child care, getting workers skills training, and investments they need in the workplace while helping employers reduce turnover."  

Vos said he understands there's no "single solution" to the worker shortage, but reiterated employers and the state Chamber of Commerce tell him eliminating the extra unemployment benefits is an "important piece of the puzzle." 

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) responded by saying the unemployment rate is lower than it was a year ago during the peak of the pandemic. In April 2020, the unemployment rate was 14.1%, the latest figures show that number is now 3.9%. 

"This is the worst time to attack government, when we are seeing the benefits," Hintz said.  

The Democrat from Oshkosh also added the announcement that the state will now receive an additional $4.4 billion in revenue shows the state is recovering.  

"The very thing we are taking up to get rid of has played a big part in our state's recovery in driving consumer spending," said Hintz. 

The bill would also prevent the Department of Workforce Development from waiving the work search requirement during the pandemic, a move they did implement for months to ease the burden for workers who lost their jobs due to COVID-19.