Wisconsin Republicans support waiving unemployment waiting period
MADISON — Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders said for the first time Wednesday that they support temporarily waiving a one-week waiting period for people to receive unemployment benefits as part of a state aid package in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a joint news conference, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald criticized Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration for not releasing more information about COVID-19 patients in Wisconsin, including how many have been hospitalized.
The Legislature is working on an aid package to supplement the federal stimulus that is bringing about $2.3 billion to Wisconsin. Evers declared a public health emergency on March 12 and since then more than 240,000 unemployment claims have been filed as schools and businesses have closed and people sheltered in place.
Vos and Fitzgerald said they did not support extending the emergency order indefinitely as Evers has requested.
“Everybody’s looking for certainty and I get that,” Fitzgerald said. “But at this point, I think it’s way too early to make that call.”
Evers has pushed for a permanent waiving of the one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits. Vos and Fitzgerald said there was broad support among Republicans who control the Legislature to temporarily waive the waiting period through the end of the year.
“Everybody understands that people need help right now, for people who lost their jobs,” Fitzgerald said.
Vos said he expected the Legislature to vote on the bill “in the very near future,” but did not say when. Evers floated a roughly $700 million aid package that Republicans dismissed. They were working on an alternative in discussion with Evers.
“Our hope is to get a bill that everyone can vote for,” Vos said. “The goal would be to have that as soon as we can.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.
As of Tuesday, there were more than 1,350 confirmed cases in the state and 26 deaths, based on state and local health departments.
Fitzgerald said senators had been putting pressure on the Evers administration to release more data and proof that all the decisions being made in reaction to the virus were justified.
“It’s a big concern,” Fitzgerald said. “It is a cause of frustration.”
Vos said he was frustrated that other states, including neighboring Minnesota, have released much more information daily, including hospitalizations.
“I know we’re all in a very tense time,” Vos said. “If other governments can step up and do it, I know Wisconsin can too and not just rely on anecdotes and rumors.”