The House has passed a bill that the Senate will take up this week. Andrew Stettner describes what is in the bill and what it hopes to accomplish on making unemployment both easier to use and more amenable to claimants. Stettner also does an excellent job of explaining how and why unemployment benefit programs have gotten drastically harder to apply for and receive (Wisconsin has been a leader on this front).
The House bill also provides paid sick days to millions of employees who currently are not eligible for sick leave and funds paid FMLA benefits for those caring for family members who are ill because of COVID-19.
Two state agencies are central to the response to this pandemic. First, the Department of Health Services handles the health care side of the response. DHS updates are available here. Basically, all health-related information the state has about COVID-19 can be found at this website.
Second, the other state agency of concern is the Department of Workforce Development. DWD has issued a reminder about the state’s work-share program. Through the work-share program, an employer can apply for unemployment benefits for its workforce through which a reduced workload can be shared among those employees while avoiding layoffs and still allowing for additional training.
Unfortunately, the application process for work-share benefits is cumbersome. Since the great recession, only a few employers have managed to take advantage of this program.
DWD has also posted FAQs about how to handle the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace. These FAQs indicate that at present there is not much currently available to those who lose work because of the Corona pandemic. For instance, job search requirements and even job center registration and attending job center training remain in place for those who lose work through no fault of their own because of this virus. As a result, unemployment benefits will NOT be available to anyone who is quarantined or ill because of corona virus.
Strangely, DWD is blaming the denial of benefits for these reasons on federal requirements. Yet, many if not all of these requirements are specifically set forth in state law. Federal authorities, moreover, have just released a program letter indicating that unemployment benefits may be allowed if available under state law. So, it does not bode well that DWD is suddenly proclaiming their hands are tied with make-believe knots.
The Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council is scheduled to meet on March 19th at 10am. If DWD will implement changes to make unemployment benefits useful during this pandemic, the council will apparently have to push for these changes at this meeting.
Dane County and Madison
Brenda Konkel of Forward Lookout describes the press release event and order issued Sunday, March 15th. Basically, gatherings of 50 or more individuals are now NOT supposed to happen. An event or gathering now restricted is one:
that brings together or is likely to bring together fifty (50) or more people in a single room or single confined or enclosed space at the same time, such as, by way of example and without limitation, public schools, private schools, charter schools, an auditorium, stadium, arena, conference room, meeting hall, theater, movie theater, exhibition center, museum, taverns, health/fitness and recreational centers, licensed pools, place of worship and religious gathering centers, and any other space where people are present and they are within arm’s length of one another for more than ten (10) minutes.
There are numerous exceptions (so read the order), but the general framework now is that gatherings of large groups of people in close proximity should NOT happen.
Madison schools has located all of their pandemic-related resources to a single website. Madison schools, for instance, has information about how to get free WI-FI access at home, access to available health services, or access to your student’s chromebook.