Several Wisconsin Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation that would restrict the state’s unemployment benefits, shortening the period they could be claimed and opening the possibility that benefits could be canceled if a recipient declines or skips a job interview, among other changes.
The lawmakers introduced several bills to address what they said is still a labor crisis in their state, according to The Associated Press.
“We have such an immense number of jobs available,” Senate President Chris Kapenga said at a news conference introducing the bills, the AP reported. “The people who are on benefits are not in the workforce. We want to reduce that so we don’t have dependency on government. No person has ever become prosperous and independent on a welfare check.”
The Republicans also said they expect to pass the legislation by the end of next month because they have a majority in both chambers of the state legislature, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
However, it is unclear what future the bills would face if they make it to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, and a spokesperson for his office did not confirm to the Journal Sentinel whether Evers would veto the measures.
The bills cover a wide range of qualifications governing unemployment and state medical benefits, including requiring the Department of Workforce Development to audit at least 50 percent of the required employment search activity that benefit recipients are required to submit to prove they are looking for work.
Another key change would be connecting the state unemployment rate to the amount of time recipients can collect unemployment benefits. Currently, the benefits can be collected for 26 weeks and under the proposed legislation, the unemployment rate would have to be over 9 percent for recipients to be able to collect benefits for that long, according to the Journal Sentinel.
At the state’s current reported unemployment rate of 3 percent, unemployment benefits would be available for 14 weeks.
The AP also reported that “able-bodied, childless adults” could lose Medicaid benefits if they turn down a job offer, and employers could report people who skip or reject job interviews, which could lead to their unemployment benefits being denied.
Last week, Republican lawmakers in the state also continued to push a bill that would allow people to use a prior COVID infection and recovery as immunity instead of a vaccine, and would allow people who are fired for not complying with vaccine mandates to still qualify for unemployment benefits, the Journal Sentinel reported.
Similar bills extending benefits to those who lose their jobs over being unvaccinated have been passed, discussed or enacted into law in at least five other Republican-led states, according to a December report from The Washington Post.