Wisconsin is seeking federal approval to offer enhanced unemployment benefits to assist the many state residents struggling financially as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Wisconsin is seeking federal approval to offer enhanced unemployment benefits to assist the many state residents struggling financially as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Evers hits Republicans for going on summer vacation instead of reaching a deal on a full relief package.

Wisconsin is seeking federal approval to offer enhanced unemployment benefits to assist the many state residents struggling financially as the coronavirus pandemic continues, Gov. Tony Evers announced Friday. 

The funding would be made available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Lost Wages Assistance program. If approved, those dollars would allow the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to pay an additional unemployment compensation benefit of $300 per week to those eligible.  

President Donald Trump announced this month he is using his executive authority to provide jobless workers an added $300 to $400 weekly unemployment payment through the program, only about half as much as the supplement that expired when Senate Republicans chose to go on their August recess rather than accept a proposal from House Democrats or negotiate a longer-lasting relief package.

Trump’s order authorized spending up to $44 billion, which is projected to cover four or five weeks of payments, at best. 

Wisconsin’s weekly unemployment benefit is $370, and with the added benefit providing a maximum weekly unemployment payment of $670. Payments will be retroactive to the week ending Aug. 1. 

Even as businesses have reopened and the state unemployment rate had dropped somewhat, many in Wisconsin continue to face financial difficulties as the pandemic continues, Evers said. While the additional unemployment funding would help, it is temporary and Congress must do more to address the situation, he said. 

“Wisconsin needs Congress and the Trump administration to come to an agreement on a continued, robust response to the pandemic,” Evers said in a statement. “Our unemployed workers deserve certainty regarding the support that will be available to them while our state and nation continue to weather this unprecedented crisis.”

CARES Act funding approved by Congress in March to address coronavirus-related economic challenges included $600 per-week unemployment payments to people who qualified for the benefit as unemployment skyrocketed when businesses shut down to try to contain the virus. 

Those benefits ran out at the end of last month after Congress didn’t authorize their continuance. In May the Democrat-controlled House approved continuing the $600 payments as part of its passage of the $3 trillion HEROES Act, but the Republican-led Senate failed to approve that legislation or further unemployment funding earlier this month before adjourning for vacation. 

To qualify for the FEMA benefit, recipients must receive at least $100 in an unemployment insurance program and must prove they are unemployed or partially unemployed related to disruptions caused by the pandemic. 

“There are many Wisconsinites who are still out of work and need additional financial assistance during this difficult time,” DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said, noting the agency has started setting up a program to ensure claimants receive benefits as soon as possible. 

But Wisconsin’s unemployment system, overseen by DWD, has experienced significant backlogs processing claims. A DWD report on Monday showed 97,750 applicants still waiting to receive payments due, in large part, to issues with old technology not upgraded during an era of budget austerity. 

As of Wednesday, 32 states had been approved to receive program grants, according to the New York Times.