GOP workforce plan would scale back unemployment insurance, Medicaid

Wisconsin Republicans say the measures would address the state's workforce shortage

A man walks past a "Now Hiring" sign on a window at Sherwin Williams store
A man walks past a “Now Hiring” sign on a window at Sherwin Williams store, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in Woodmere Village, Ohio. Tony Dejak/AP Photo

Wisconsin Republicans have introduced a package of bills that would scale back safety net programs like unemployment insurance and Medicaid, arguing the government is to blame for the state’s workforce shortage.

The measures include a plan that would cut the maximum number of weeks of unemployment insurance by nearly half when the unemployment rate is low. Also included is a bill that would penalize people who turn down extra work in order to qualify for BadgerCare.

“The more people that are on these programs who don’t truly need them, the more the programs are stressed, and the less funding is available to help the truly needy,” said Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, at a Madison press conference Tuesday introducing the package.

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While the plans could all pass within the next month, they face likely vetoes from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who campaigned on using federal funds to expand Medicaid, not on cutting it. In addition, Evers has rejected previous efforts by Republicans to scale back unemployment benefits.

The measures introduced by Republicans on Tuesday include:

  • A plan to “index” Wiscosin’s unemployment insurance benefits to the state’s unemployment rate. Right now, people can receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance. This plan would allow for the full 26 weeks only when the state’s unemployment rate is greater than 9 percent. When the unemployment rate is less than or equal to 3.5 percent, benefits would be cut off after 14 weeks.
  • A proposal that would cut off Medicaid, or BadgerCare, to adults without kids if they turn down an offer to work more, or turn down an increase in pay. Some BadgerCare recipients are reluctant to increase their hours out of fear they’ll lose their current health plan and be unable to afford similar health insurance on the private market.
  • New penalties for unemployment insurance recipients who “ghost” employers, or don’t show up to a scheduled job interview.
  • A work requirement for able-bodied adults without kids who are seeking FoodShare benefits.
  • A measure that would ban the state Department of Health Services from automatically renewing eligibility for medical assistance benefits.
  • Proposals that would rebrand Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance program as “reemployment assistance” and create new penalties for unemployment insurance fraud.

Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback did not say whether the governor would veto the plans, but in a written statement, she highlighted Evers’ ongoing effort to use federal recovery funds to address the state’s workforce issues.

“Gov. Evers is investing $130 million to find innovative, community-based solutions to confront our state’s workforce challenges head-on, so it’s great to hear Republicans now recognize the importance of these efforts,” Cudaback wrote. “Under Gov. Evers, Wisconsin has among the lowest unemployment rates in the country at 3% — tied for the lowest in state history — while continuing to be a national leader in our workforce participation rate.”

GOP lawmakers say they’ll likely pass their proposals by the end of February.