Capitol Update

by Senator Howard Marklein

April 14, 2023


Bills to Bolster Wisconsin's Workforce

In early April, 80% of voters in Wisconsin told us – YES! – they want able-bodied, childless adults to be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits.
In response to these results, the legislature has re-introduced eight bills to bolster Wisconsin’s workforce by encouraging people to make an effort to find work. We passed all of these bills last session and Governor Tony Evers vetoed them. But, we hope the Governor heard the 80% of voters during the last election who support these ideas and will reconsider his vetoes.
One of the most important things we can do as lawmakers is make sure that our state’s safety net programs are available to Wisconsinites when they are really needed. I fully support our investments in safety net options for people who need assistance to overcome life’s obstacles.  However, the pandemic created an ethos of never-ending bailouts and ongoing “emergency” benefits with no expiration dates.
Over the last three years, several welfare benefits have been open-ended and ongoing. Only recently have individuals and families been reassessed to determine if they remain eligible for some benefits. Many no longer need the safety net. Many are back to work. Many have very different circumstances than they faced three years ago.
When welfare programs go on – and on – and on – it makes it much easier for recipients to stay out of the workforce. Some people have calculated exactly how many hours they can work while maintaining eligibility for welfare benefits, even though they are capable of full-time employment. As we continue to face a workforce shortage, we need every able-bodied, childless adult to seek employment and contribute to our communities. We should not be paying people to stay home.
Last year, a local employer told me that they are “competing with the couch” for employees. I also heard from a hard-working employee at a local manufacturer who told me how disheartening it was to watch his neighbor load up his fishing boat on a weekday morning at the same time he was leaving for his second double-shift because they were short-staffed.  His neighbor was using this financial “freedom” as a time to vacation because he was receiving extended unemployment benefits with no requirement to look for other work. It was really demoralizing to my constituent who was going to work every day.
I firmly believe it is stories like these that drove the 80% vote on the referendum question this spring. The vast majority of Wisconsin voters, from all political persuasions, backgrounds and geography, think that able-bodied, childless adults should look for work.
The eight bills that we are re-introducing will accomplish the goals of Wisconsinites everywhere. Among these bills is a bill that would change the maximum number of weeks that a person could claim unemployment based on the statewide unemployment rate.  Under current law, everyone who receives unemployment is immediately eligible for 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. If this bill were to become law, the maximum 26 week period would only be available if the statewide unemployment rate is greater than 9%. Right now, the statewide unemployment rate is 2.7%. Under this bill, unemployment benefits would only be available for 14 weeks when the rate is this low. There are a lot of jobs available right now and unemployed people should be looking for work rather than sitting on benefits for 26 weeks.
Another bill creates a mechanism for employers to report to the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) when a unemployment recipient is a no-show for a job interview. More individuals are submitting resumes for available jobs, but they are then “ghosting” the employer for the interview.  They either do not reply to the offer of an interview or they actually schedule it and then fail to appear.
If a person is blowing-off a potential job, they shouldn’t get unemployment benefits anymore.  If the employer’s report is found to be credible, that individual would then be ineligible for benefits for the week in which the claim was verified.
These are just two examples of common-sense bills that we are working on to rebuild Wisconsin’s workforce and move people off of on-going, never-ending welfare benefits into employment.  I do not think it is too much to ask for able-bodied, childless adults to support themselves.
As always, please do not hesitate to connect with me to provide input, ideas or to seek assistance.  Send an email to sen.marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov or call 608-266-0703. I want to hear from you.