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Ending fed-enhanced pandemic unemployment bonus

By Rebecca Kleefisch

As our nation emerges from the pandemic, many of the last restrictions on people’s rights and liberties are fading away, though a few blue state governors seem not to have caught up to society and the science yet.

Businesses are back at work, restaurants have reopened, kids are learning in-person in most schools, and people who want to have been vaccinated. But some governors insist on keeping around the parts of the pandemic response that grew government, including enhanced checks for people on unemployment insurance.

During the height of the pandemic  — when people were being laid off and businesses closed through no fault of their own — unemployment insurance was there to provide temporary assistance (at least, if Gov. Tony Evers’ people ever answered the phone).

Now that we’re on the other side of the shutdown, we shouldn’t retain the higher unemployment payments. Rational people will choose the bigger check and, in many cases, the government is paying people more for unemployment than they were getting for work. By not acting, Evers is incentivizing people to choose a government handout over a private sector paycheck.

Enhanced unemployment insurance subsidized by the federal government is not a long-term solution to the problems we face. Employers have raised wages, but for many it’s still tough to compete with the federal government. Paying people to stay home at a time when businesses are desperate for workers to return, people are vaccinated, and kids are largely back in school is backward-thinking.

Recently, the state’s largest business organization sent Governor Evers a letter making the same request. They highlighted the dire labor situation hitting “a crisis level” and said, “if immediate action is not taken, there is a great likelihood that longterm and irreversible damage will be done to Wisconsin’s economy.”

The Republican-led Legislature took a step in the right direction this week, supporting the end of the federally backed unemployment insurance boost. The Legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules will also vote to require unemployed people to search for work again.

Wisconsin’s workers have always been her biggest strength. We were once innovators at talent attraction and connecting employers with potential employees. We can be again, but it starts with ending “emergency” bonuses in unemployment insurance. And it must continue with long-term solutions that lead to higher wages through income tax relief and pro-growth policies.

It also requires a mindset shift in Madison that measures results by the number of people moving off government assistance and into jobs, rather than judging success by the number of people government is “helping” with a monthly stipend.

If the bureaucrats in Madison shifted their focus from growing government to growing the economy, we’d see a return to innovative pipeline programs like those we pursued during the Walker-Kleefisch Administration, when government assistance functioned like a trampoline rather than a hammock.

Not only did we send people the money they needed to keep food on the table, but we also gave them lifelines to training, job skills, resume and interview coaching, community service opportunities, child care, apprenticeships, tech college classes–whatever they needed to enter the workforce in a better position than when they came onto the program.

Some Republican governors, like Bill Lee in Tennessee and my friend Kim Reynolds in Iowa, are leading the way by recognizing that “free” federal money isn’t always free, that jobs are better than benefits, and work does more for people’s pocketbooks and dignity than government assistance. Hopefully, policymakers in Wisconsin will soon return to our state’s proud tradition of making work pay more than welfare.

Rebecca Kleefisch is President of 1848 Project, Inc. and Wisconsin’s former Lieutenant Governor.

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3 thoughts on “Ending fed-enhanced pandemic unemployment bonus

  • ALL of you who are making assumptions about the unemployed, better actually do some research. I am conservative and I am disappointed in this decision. If you actually did your homework you’d see that Wisconsin is actually at pre-pandemic unemployment of 3.1%. Pre-pandemic it was 3.9%. During pandemic it was 14%. So where do you get off saying that the unemployed are mooching off the system or not going back to work? Obviously if the unemployment rate was 14% last year and it is at 3.1% this year…People ARE going back to work. What is your beef? The manufacturing jobs are vacant because those companies are paying low wages for the conditions and hours for those positions. No one wants to work for $16 an hour for a physical job that has crappy hours. If you want people to work manufacturing jobs you need to pay at least $25/hr plus awesome benefits. Men used to work these jobs to support a family. You can’t support a family on $16/hr. I remember when Oshkosh Truck and Bemis were paying HIGH wages and people begged to work there. The benefits were awesome and the pay supported families well even with one parent working. There are people who lost their $50k a year job during pandemic and NO ONE is hiring for anywhere near that now. The reason Vos wants this is because his buddies that own these manufacturing companies are struggling with those vacant positions and they need “a favor”. Good luck with that, because those jobs are going to stay vacant until they start paying better. That is the harsh truth.

  • We’re having a Pints and Politics in the Northwoods and will present a PETITION TO END SURPLUS UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION for our attendees. Plan to send it to the ‘guv.’
    But will he pay attention to grassroots?

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