Unemployment council set to examine GOP suggestions

Members of the state’s Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council say they’re reserving judgment on many of the suggested changes GOP lawmakers have offered for the state’s unemployment program.

Still, several of the business representatives on the 10-member council say they’re intrigued by provisions that would shore up the Unemployment Trust Fund and shield businesses from higher assessments.

“It’s an idea we love,” said Ed Lump of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association and one of five management picks for the 10-member commission.

Two dozen GOP lawmakers signed a letter sent to the council last week. Members said the letter arrived late Monday afternoon when they were already discussing other proposed changes to the unemployment program and did not have time to dig into them. The council plans to take them up at its next meeting later this month.

The council has already approved 11 of the 33 proposals GOP lawmakers outlined in their letter; the changes had previously been proposed by the Department of Workforce Development prior to the GOP letter. Those changes include increasing the number of work search requirements for claimants, limiting the number of exceptions for those who quit their jobs to collect unemployment, and clarifying standards of misconduct.

The council also did not agree to several recommendations lawmakers included in their letter and had previously been proposed by DWD. That included giving the agency the authority to collect UI overpayments, establishing penalties for claimants failing to provide timely information to the agency, and eliminating a waiver for phone problems at DWD.

Some of the GOP proposals that haven’t been addressed include tying the number of weeks unemployed workers could claim jobless benefits to the unemployment rate.

The five labor members of the council either did not return calls or declined comment on the GOP proposals until the full council had an opportunity to review them.

Lump said he didn’t know if that proposal would be a sticking point for the council, but called it an “interesting concept.”

Lump and lobbyist James Buchen, another management appointee to the council, said they were interested in the proposals that could help businesses avoid taking a hit financially from the drain on the trust fund over the last several years.

One provision would provide $19 million in state money during 2013 and $7 million in 2014 to cover an assessment on businesses to pay interest on the state’s loan from the federal government to cover unemployment insurance costs.

Buchen said he’s not sure where the state would find the money to cover the costs of the proposal. But he said it would be welcome relief for businesses.

“I think those are very creative ideas and really on target stuff to really address some of the financial issues,” he said.

— By JR Ross