February 9, 2016

Lawmakers want changes to Unemployment Insurance program

Citing concerns about outdated policies and employers being forced to shoulder large payments to cover federal debt, a group of Republican state lawmakers is rolling out a series of proposals targeting Wisconsin’s Unemployment Insurance program.

The package of reforms is aimed at addressing the solvency of the Unemployment Trust Fund and updating the rules of the system. State Representative Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) says they want to root-out waste, fraud, and abuse by reworking the fund and keeping it solvent for any future crisis.

The 30 point plan calls for a broad range of changes, which includes limiting when employees can collect unemployment benefits after quitting a job. Knodl says there are currently 18 exceptions that allow someone to receive benefits after voluntarily leaving a job. The GOP proposal calls for reducing that list to just eight.

Lawmakers also want to restrict the ability of fired employees to collect benefits if they were terminated because they committed a crime, such as stealing from their employer. Knodl says it seems like common sense, but he’s heard several stories from businesses that were forced to cover benefits simply because the issue was not covered in an employee handbook.

The package also calls for paying down the debt owed to the federal government for money the state borrowed during the recession to deal with a growing number of claims. Knodl says the interest payments alone are costing businesses about $60,000 a day. Lawmakers want to use taxpayer funds to pay off about $36 million in interest and then use borrowing to reduce the $900 million the state owes the federal government.

The proposals were included in a letter sent to the Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council this week, although many of the changes would likely require action from the state Legislature.

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