Wisconsin Assembly Republicans on Wednesday proposed a new state loan program to support some of the state’s approximately 140,000 people waiting to receive deferred unemployment checks.
As part of the GOP plan, the Evers administration would use $ 40 million in funding from the Federal COVID-19 relief package adopted in March, which the state still has about $ 280 million, to offer zero-rate bridging loans to people waiting for benefit checks. The program could be administered by the state Revenue Department, Republicans said.
According to a note from the non-partisan budget office of the Legislative Assembly, $ 40 million could provide about 31,000 people with a loan of $ 1,308, which is equivalent to four weeks of the state’s average unemployment benefit. The average weekly benefit was $ 327 in March 2020, according to the note.
That would cover less than a quarter, about 22%, of people waiting for delayed benefit checks.
Republicans called on the governor’s administration to roll out the program immediately, saying legislation was not needed to establish it.
The State Department of Workforce Development struggled with a backlog of job applications since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin, when the state’s unemployment rate fell from 3% in March to 14% in April.
According to figures released by the department earlier this week, around 530,000 unemployment claims filed between March 14 and July 4 have yet to be paid. This represents about 13% of claims in this period and includes claims of about 140,000 people.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke R-Kaukauna said lawmakers were inundated with calls from people who had been waiting weeks, sometimes months, for their unemployment checks.
“The real question is, how long are these 140,000 people supposed to wait? How long can people go without any income, unable to pay their bills?” Steineke said at a press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday. “And how long are we going to put up with the administration’s apologies without any real action to resolve the problem?” “
DWD announced earlier this week that it had more than tripled its workforce between mid-March and early July in an attempt to close the backlog. It has also extended the opening hours of its call center.
The ministry had previously cited staff shortages, as well as an outdated IT system, as the reasons for the backlog. Republicans criticized the explanations, saying the administration should have acted faster to increase staff.
Delays in the payment of claims may be caused by a number of things, including disputes over how a person ended up out of work. For example, if an employee is dismissed for professional misconduct, he is not entitled to unemployment benefits. There may also be conflicts over length of employment, number of hours worked or wages. According to the ministry, about 12% of claims between March 15 and July 6 were denied for one reason or another.
Eligibility disputes result in investigations which, according to the ministry, are typically resolved within 21 days. However, some Wisconsin residents have been waiting for months without receiving a single unemployment benefit.
Representative Jon Plumer, R-Lodi, said he had had “hundreds” of telephone conversations with “desperate” voters because of the delay in unemployment checks.
“These are true stories. These are people who are losing their homes, people who cannot put food on the table, who cannot pay their bills,” he said.
Gov. Tony Evers’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.