Republican lawmakers propose changes to unemployment benefits

MADISON (WITI) -- Republican lawmakers are proposing to reduce the number of weeks your employer has to cut you a check if you're laid off. The plan would be tied to the performance of the economy.

State Representative Dan Knodl of Germantown explains, "The number of weeks would be tied to the unemployment rate, so in times of high unemployment the number of weeks would stand at 26, which is what it is now. If and when the unemployment rate decreases, the number of weeks would decrease as well."

Starting next year, laid-off workers would receive the standard 26 weeks of unemployment benefits only if the unemployment rate is 8% or higher. If the unemployment rate drops below 8% that number would be reduced to 12 weeks.

"The thinking there is that those are good times, better times when jobs are more available, that people can move into employment in a quicker fashion," notes Knodl.

Democratic State Representative Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee opposes the idea. "We have so many people out there struggling. They're looking for jobs and we need to do what we can to support those people. Changes in unemployment insurance right now? It's not the right time to do it," she says.

During the recession, Wisconsin's unemployment insurance fund was depleted. The state had to borrow $1.5 billion to cover benefits. Knodl says the reduction in the number of checks issued would free up money for companies to reinvest into their businesses. Sinicki says she believes it's an example of Republicans putting the interests of business over the concerns of workers.

The proposal also calls for the state to lend $50 million to the unemployment insurance fund so it always has a positive balance, keeping taxes on businesses down.