Wisconsin may soon become the latest state to turn down federal funding to extend unemployment benefits. While extended unemployment benefits ran out April 16 for 10,000 Wisconsinites, Wisconsin Republicans have been delaying a decision to accept additional federal funding for months, claiming that extending benefits create a disincentive to find work.
Many, such as co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee Robin Vos (R), argue there are jobs out there, but people are unwilling to take them, preferring to sit on the cushion of unemployment benefits rather than take a pay cut from what they were making before the recession. But Vos’ statements contradict multiple reports.
The San Francisco Federal Reserve, for instance, has found that workers who qualify for unemployment benefits stay unemployed just 1.6 weeks longer than those who do not qualify for such benefits. And as the Wisconsin AFL-CIO noted, these benefits are quite stingy:
“It seems to me to be crazy in a time of such high unemployment to not take this federal assistance,” said Jon Peacock, research director for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO agreed, pointing out the $363/week in unemployment benefits is equal to a $9-an-hour full-time job – virtually impossible for a family to live on.
A National Employment Law Project report from last month found that, nationally, there are 5.6 workers for each job opening.
The Republican leadership in the state is by no means unified. Despite the staunch Republican opposition in the House, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) wrote a letter to the Republican-dominated Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council in which he urged lawmakers to accept the extension to provide temporary relief for those out-of-work. Walker’s outreach mirrors that of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who earlier this month tried to persuade Arizona Republicans to extend benefits in her state:
Extending benefits for the unemployed is the right thing to do both for our local economy and for Arizona families. [...] For our economy, these federal dollars represent an immediate cash infusion of nearly $3.5 million a week as recipients spend on necessities like food, rent and clothing.
The extension in unemployment first must be approved by the Republican-dominated Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council, who is expected to meet Thursday. If passed, its next step is a legislative vote. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana and Utah are the only other states who have turned down the federal extension of unemployment benefits.
– Jen Kalaidis