In a reversal for unemployment recipients, the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD) now says unemployed Wisconsinites will not be required to complete work search requirements starting next week.
According to an earlier version of DWD's "Work Search FAQ" page, a prior extension of the work search waiver was set to expire on Saturday. Within the last few weeks, as that deadline neared, the department sent out notifications to unemployment recipients through their online portals prompting them to create a plan for completing their required work search activities, according to interviews with unemployment recipients who received the notice and posts in online unemployment support groups.
But in an update to the department's "Work Search FAQ" page that many unemployment recipients noticed Tuesday, a new note tells recipients the requirements will continue to be waived.
"The work search requirement will continue to be waived at this time. We will update you when that changes," the page reads. "DWD has submitted certification of a new Emergency Rule to the Legislative Reference Bureau addressing this issue that will be effective beginning next week. This new emergency rule will allow the Department to respond to the spread of COVID-19 by waiving work searches for potentially thousands of claimants."
After the emergency rule is published, the waiver will remain in effect for 150 days, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau. The rule is expected to be published Feb. 11, meaning the waiver would remain in place through early July.
After that, state lawmakers can extend the waiver for two 60-day periods. In December, GOP state lawmakers argued against extending the waiver again, pointing to the state's improved unemployment rate.
Chenon Times-Rainwater, an unemployment activist and co-founder of the Wisconsin Unemployment Action group, said she was glad to hear the waiver would continue.
"I think that the DWD needs to focus on getting these (new unemployment) programs implemented," Times-Rainwater said. "I'm really happy that they actually listened ... because it definitely gave people, you know, an air of relief with one less thing they have to worry about."
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Dino Paladino, a self-employed Cudahy resident who said he has been relying on unemployment since his work building decks and fences dried up in March 2020, said he didn't think searching for work made sense for people who are self-employed.
Paladino was relieved that the waiver would continue, but said he was nervous about how long the waiver would last.
"I think when it finally expires, we'll be back in the same boat," Paladino said. "Being a self-employed guy applying for work searches where you already know ... if you have to take a job, it's going to be something that you're not going to support your family on."
In paperwork dated Jan. 20 preparing the latest waiver, DWD acknowledged the impact work search would have on self-employed individuals. The department said the waiver would help small business owners who may be able to receive some unemployment assistance "rather than requiring them to search for and accept suitable work as employees and shut down their businesses."
Under state law, unemployment recipients in Wisconsin are typically required to complete four "work search" activities every week. Those include things like applying for a job, attending a career fair or participating in a professional networking event.
Gov. Tony Evers approved the latest waiver on Feb. 1, according to the emergency rule.
Evers originally waived work search requirements by emergency order in March. When that order expired, state lawmakers approved extending the waiver twice, with the latest extension expiring Feb. 2.
DWD has the authority to wave work search requirements under state law, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, if doing so is allowed under federal law. In March, Congress gave states additional federal funding for unemployment if they met certain criteria, including making it easier for jobless Americans to access unemployment insurance by waiving work search requirements.
In the text of the emergency rule dated Feb. 2, DWD states that it will "repeal this emergency rule if it determines that the rule is no longer necessary to respond to the threat of COVID-19."