Capitol Update

by Senator Howard Marklein

May 21, 2021

Workforce Recovery Bill to Encourage Return-To-Work

This week, I circulated Workforce Recovery legislation to encourage unemployed individuals to return-to-work amid a massive, statewide worker shortage. The legislation ends Wisconsin’s participation in federal unemployment compensation enhancement programs that provide a disincentive for returning to work.
A couple of weeks ago, it was Small Business Week and I visited a number of small businesses throughout the 17th Senate District to check-in, say “hello” and see what is going on in our communities. Every single business I visited told me about their struggles to fill vacancies and hire workers to meet their needs. One business told me about having to cancel a $1.6 million contract because they couldn’t hire the people to produce the product!
The employers in my Senate District are desperate for workers. They have significantly raised wages, are offering sign-on bonuses and are begging people to work for them. But they cannot compete with the generous federal unemployment benefits that nearly double UI checks. We need to return to regular unemployment compensation programs and encourage able-bodied Wisconsinites to get back to work.
One business leader told me that he is not competing with other employers or higher wages for workers – he is competing with the couch. By this, he means that the Federal enhancer encourages people to stay home because they can make more money staying on unemployment than returning to work. This needs to end.
To answer their call, I authored the Workforce Recovery bill which ends Wisconsin’s participation in the following federal programs, which otherwise do not end until September 6, 2021:

a.      Pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) program

b.      Pandemic Emergency Unemployment compensation (PEUC) program

c.      Federal pandemic unemployment compensation (FPUC) program

d.      Mixed earner unemployment compensation (MEUC) program

On May 19, 2021, the legislature also restored the work search requirement for unemployment compensation as of Sunday, May 23rd. This means that UI recipients are required to look for work to qualify for benefits.  If offered a position, workers must take it.  This requirement was waived during COVID and was not going to be restored until mid-July. However, the legislature followed the lead of other states and President Biden’s recommendation to remove this waiver.
It is important to note that once our legislation is enacted, the Wisconsin unemployment compensation program will return to pre-pandemic operations and provide an ongoing safety net for those who need it. I recognize the importance of this program, but I also know that there are a lot of very good jobs, with very good benefits and accommodating workplaces that are desperate for workers.
One of the major criticisms I have heard about this initiative is that we are forcing people to take low-wage, minimum-wage jobs with no benefits. This could not be further from the truth. Nearly every employer I talked to is offering at least double the minimum wage and many are offering well-above the minimum wage. They are all competing for workers and doing everything they can to recruit.
It is also important to remember that there are a lot of hard-working people who have stayed in the workforce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They are pulling much more than their weight – and they are getting tired. We need to help our workforce to recover for the sake of other workers who are putting in very long hours and keeping our businesses afloat.
It is time to recover and move forward. It is time to restore our workforce and give our employers the people they need to rebuild our supply chains. The economy is strong and we need to make these changes to protect our progress.

For more information and to connect with me, visit my website http://legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/17/marklein and subscribe to my weekly E-Update by sending an email to Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov. Do not hesitate to call (608) 266-0703 if you have any questions or need assistance with any state-related matters.