Unemployment Insurance to Undergo Changes

Both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature have passed a bill, SB 200, overhauling the state’s Unemployment Insurance Compensation (UIC) program. The package of twenty-two reforms, which would increase the maximum weekly unemployment payout but also install new limits upon whom can collect the benefits, will now go to the governor for his signature.

The bill would:

  • Increase the maximum jobless benefit by $7 to $370 a week.
  • Repeal a program that allows claimants to receive an additional 26 weeks of benefits if they are enrolled in training. The program, created in 2009, was initially funded with federal stimulus money, but that money is no longer available.
  • Bar inmates in work-release programs from receiving unemployment benefits.
  • Prohibit claimants from simultaneously receiving both state jobless benefits and the federal payments to disabled workers known as Social Security Disability Insurance.
  • Require random audits of claimants receiving state-funded benefits, a step already taken with those receiving federally funded benefits.
  • A standardized handbook will clarify the responsibilities of both the employer and employee on what unemployment insurance is and when it is paid.
  • An online employer complaint system will simplify the procedures employers follow to report suspected UIC fraud.
  • The number of fraud workers to investigate fraud in the UIC system would be increased.

These are not the only proposed changes to the UIC program being considered. The state budget also includes some changes to the program. Provisions inserted into the Joint Finance Committee’s proposed budget would:

  • Allow the Dept. of Workforce Development (DWD) to use up to $30 million in general tax money to pay interest costs on debt owed by the unemployment insurance fund to the federal government for extra borrowing by the state during the height of the recession. Using GPR funds spreads the cost to all taxpayers instead of having it be paid only by businesses.
  • Allow the Dept. of Administration (DOA) to loan up to $50 million to the DWD’s unemployment insurance fund if the loan will keep the fund in the black, and thus save businesses from a federal tax hike.
  • Create different, higher rates for employers who use the UIC program funds more often – such as seasonal construction firms.
  • Eliminate nine instances in which a worker can quit a job and still claim benefits.
  • Modify the definition of workplace misconduct for UI purposes to include “substantial fault.” This would mean fewer employees who are fired would be able to receive benefits.