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Column: Repealing week-long wait for unemployment essential

The goal of the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program, which provides partial wage replacement to workers out of work through no fault of their own, is to provide economic stability to not just individuals and their families—but to support the entire state.

UI benefits ensure bills are paid, families are fed, and local businesses are supported during times of economic contraction.

Gov. Tony Evers, through Emergency Order, has taken multiple steps to provide direct assistance to individuals out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He waived work search requirements to ensure individuals stay attached to their previous employers and loosened the “able and available to work requirement” to extend benefits to more workers impacted by the virus.

The federal government has also taken multiple steps to assist the unemployed, and the Department of Workforce Development’s (DWD) UI Division staff are preparing to implement the new requirements as soon as they receive final guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor.

But the only way to get much needed financial assistance into the hands of Wisconsinites faster is to repeal the one-week waiting period for UI benefits.

Under current state law, workers do not receive any benefits for the first week they are out of work. Prior to the pandemic, more than 40 states had a one-week waiting period for benefits. According to recent reports, fewer than eight states still have the requirement in place.

Wisconsin is one of those states, but we don’t have to be. While the one-week wait hurts our state’s families and economy in a normal situation, it will hurt even more now. Once available to claimants, the Federal government’s Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (an additional $600 per week for those receiving state unemployment) will be available for the first week of a claim, but only if that state does not have a one-week waiting period.

Foregoing the first week of needed state and Federal benefits can easily be avoided through legislative action. The time to act is now. Out-of-work Wisconsinites don’t have weeks to pay their bills. Essential Wisconsin businesses don’t have weeks to make their payroll.

Gov. Evers called on the legislature on March 17 to pass legislation to repeal the one-week waiting period. The governor and Democrats in the legislature have continued to champion this commonsense measure.

I was encouraged to see this proposal gain bipartisan support and now ask that the legislature act swiftly to guide the law change through both houses and get it on Governor Evers’ desk as soon as possible. The stability of Wisconsin families and our economy depends on timely legislative action.

Caleb Frostman is the Secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this column included inaccurate information pertaining to an additional $600 per month. The extra $600 for unemployment is weekly, not monthly.

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