Job searches are back

Update (21 May 2021): The Department has announced on its job search FAQ that the four job search actions per week will NOT apply to claimants receiving PUA benefits.

No job searches for claimants receiving PUA benefits

Note: If your PUA eligibility changes or the circumstances connected to your work search waiver change, then you WILL be required to do job searches, including for weeks that have already passed. So, having the job search requirement waived for now does NOT mean it might apply to you later for weeks that have already happened.

The Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules met today and voted to immediately suspend the waiver of job search requirements and pandemic-related able and available provisions contained in EmR2106.

Here is what claimants need to know.

Four job search actions are required starting Sunday, May 23rd

Starting Sunday, May 23rd, all claimants will need to do four job search actions every week. What are those actions?

possible job search actions and the proof required for that action

Notice that the Department now expects claimants to retain (for 52 weeks!) their job search records and provide proof for each job search action (for those 52 weeks!).

Even if you cannot do a weekly claim certification at the moment (for instance, because your PUA benefits are on hold), you should still do four job searches and keep records of those searches for any week starting on May 23rd or later.

The work search log files are available here in DOC and PDF formats. More directions for how to complete these forms are available here.

When filing your weekly claim certification, you will be prompted with the following screen:

Weekly work search entry form

After “agreeing” to these requirements, you are then prompted to begin entering each work search action:

Work seach action reporting form

As already noted, keep your job search records for one year, as the Department audits all job searches at some point and has up to a year to do an audit of any claimant after that claimant starts filing his or her weekly certifications. In other words, the Department is sure to audit your work searches at some point. Indeed, at the public hearing today, Department representatives stated that more than 75% of work search reviews lead to weekly certifications being denied.

Loss of pandemic-related able and available provisions

Besides waiving the four job search actions in a week requirement, EmR2106 also provided some important waivers of able and available requirements related to the pandemic. Those provisions are also gone as of May 23rd, and so workers will need to be able and available for work regardless of any pandemic-related concerns.

Workers receiving regular unemployment benefits or PEUC benefits who have Covid-19 symptoms or who are quarantined by a medical provider will now need to report to work regardless of the impact on their health or public health in general.

Update (20 May 2021): Broke out the above paragraph into two, fixed some typos, and added emphasis in places.

Other ‘job search’ requirements

Job center of Wisconsin registration

This registration requirement has remained unchanged and unaffected by the pandemic. Once done, your job center of Wisconsin registration should look like:

Successful job center registration

After a certain number of months, you will need to renew this registration.

Job search training seminar (RESEA)

This attendance requirement has remained in place throughout the pandemic. As noted previously, the Department switched from attending an in-person seminar to a seminar done through e-mail, on-line communications, and phone calls.

Sen. Nass wants job searches back

On May 7th, Sen. Nass announced in a press release:

The Department of Workforce Development has the power to end the emergency rule early on its own authority. Unfortunately, Governor Evers and his administration is ignoring the critical shortage of workers impacting almost every sector of the state’s economy. The legislature will act quickly to restore the work search requirement.

* * *

We need every able-bodied person to re-enter Wisconsin’s workforce to rebuild our economy. In the current situation, nearly every person on UI should be able to find employment in a short time if required to seek work.

A man of action, Sen. Nass has scheduled a public hearing and then a vote to repeal the current work search waiver and pandemic-related able and available provisions for May 19th, starting at 1:30pm, in Room 411 South of the Capitol.

There are some obvious problems with what Sen. Nass is proposing here:

  • “Impact” is not a verb (despite the folks at American Heritage Dictionary relenting on this issue).
  • Wisconsin’s workforce is not 100% able-bodied. As pointed out in the history of the SSDI eligibility ban, more than 5% of the state’s workforce receives SSDI benefits. Is Sen. Nass accepting that the job search waivers continued to exist for SSDI recipients receiving PUA benefits? What about the very few disabled workers who do not receive SSDI benefits?
  • Sen. Nass is presuming facts not in evidence.

    First, Wisconsin over the last decade has experienced exceptionally slow economic growth, slow to declining job growth, and a stagnant or declining population relative to its neighbors. See this post or this post for examinations of recent economic and jobs statistics.

    Second, Wisconsin’s unemployment benefits are not an issue with part-time work. As explained here, Wisconsin’s partial wage formula for unemployment benefits actually encourages unemployed workers to work because those workers can continue to collect their unemployment benefits as well as wages from their jobs. So, restaurant and retail workers where part-time jobs dominate, can usually receive both wages from their jobs and partial unemployment benefits as well as the $300 PUC payments. In other words, these workers would be working if they could, and they probably are working.

    Jake had additional information about how unemployment eligibility has nothing to do with the national jobs data at this post, this post, and this post.
  • This return to job search requirements is actually intended as a way to slow down the growth in wages paid to workers.

    The playbook in Wisconsin over the past decade has been to increase the supply of potential workers, especially at the low end of the wage scale, in order to keep those wages from rising.

Note: Classic supply and demand curves indicate that the more supply of something means a lower price for that something. Likewise, when demand for something is up, the price for that item will increase. In labor economics, then, wages go down when the supply of labor goes up.

That was why legal and administrative changes in unemployment were undertaken in 2013 thru 2017. By making unemployment harder to receive, workers had to turn to low wage jobs immediately to make ends meet. And so, with the supply of workers seeking low wage jobs inflated, wages in Wisconsin were kept low.

Sen. Nass knows that demand for workers is up. So, all he can think about right now is to increase the supply of workers by making unemployment harder to get — right out of the playbook from the past decade.

The problems with this thinking, as noted above, is that unemployment benefits right now really have nothing to do with the labor supply problems at the moment. All that will really be achieved is some additional financial pain and heartache for folks who get caught up in the job search requirement.

At present, the emergency rule with pandemic-related provisions and waiver of the job search requirement, EmR2106, is slated to expire on 10 July 2021.

Maybe in July 2021, the economic impact of the pandemic may finally be waning. But, right now in the middle of May 2021, no one can say that the pandemic is over. Indeed, there are thousands of people still waiting on their unemployment benefits from losing jobs in March and April 2020. Forcing job search requirements again when vaccinations in the state are just over 45% as of May 16th is ridiculous.

The members of the this committee who should hear from you are:

Unemployment and job searches

Wisconsin news is in a tizzy about pandemic unemployment benefits leading to shortages of job applicants. News reports in Wisconsin feature retail establishments, and the outcry about worker shortages from the restaurant lobby has been non-stop. Sen. Nass even wants to start requiring unemployed workers to do four job searches a week and end all pandemic-related eligibility for regular unemployment benefits.

Hogwash.

In other states, unemployment benefits may be an issue. But, in Wisconsin unemployment eligibility and benefits are NOT the issue.

That is because Wisconsin uses a partial wage formula of

WBR minus 2/3(Wages earned in a week minus $30) = UI received that week

for computing eligibility for unemployment benefits. This formula rewards workers for partial work, because they still remain eligible for unemployment benefits.

Depending on the claimant’s weekly benefit rate, a claimant can return to work and still be eligible for unemployment benefits. So, a working claimant can receive both wages from work and unemployment benefits, including the federally-funded $300 PUC currently being offered until 6 Sept. 2021.

Here is the eligibility chart for a claimant with a weekly benefit rate of $300 (the x-axis is the amount of wages earned in a week).

Part-time work with a weekly benefit rate of $300

And, here is the eligibility chart for a claimant with a weekly benefit rate of $250 (the x-axis is the amount of wages earned in a week).

Part-time work with a weekly benefit rate of $250

Retail and restaurant work is notoriously part-time work, in large part because full-time work is reserved to the employees for whom job benefits like health insurance are offered. Furthermore, these employers generally avoid any chance of having to pay overtime wages.

Worker shortages in northern and rural Wisconsin or in specific sectors of the economy are either because there are fewer available workers (rural and Northern Wisconsin have experienced a declining population during the last decade) or businesses are still thinking a $9 or $11 per hour starting wage is attractive, despite workers easily seeing numerous other businesses offering $15 or more per hour.

And, workers in highly paid jobs can see better wages, improved social services, and a better standard of living in cities like Minneapolis or Madison. Hence, it is in those cities where the population is growing.

Hint: Living in rural and Northern Wisconsin would be imminently more possible and attractive to folks if broadband Internet was widely available in those areas.

Yes, there may be a few Wisconsin workers who mistakenly think they cannot collect unemployment benefits while working part-time.

Note: A reporter keeps asking for examples of actual workers who are turning down work in order to keep receiving unemployment benefits. So far, no examples are forthcoming.

But, just because a few workers do not understand how unemployment works simply means that Wisconsin and its employers have not done a good enough job explaining how unemployment actually works.

Saying people in Wisconsin are not working because of unemployment benefits is like saying 2 + 2 = 5. The numbers just do not add up.

Update (13 May 2021): A few days ago, the Biden Administration released the following information.

May 10, 2021

FACT SHEET: President Biden Announces Additional Steps to Help Americans Return to Work

Over the first three full months of the Biden-Harris Administration, the economy added more than 1.5 million jobs, or more than 500,000 jobs per month on average. That compares to an average of 60,000 jobs per month in the three previous months. These three months have seen the strongest first three months of job growth of any administration.

Despite this progress, there’s more work to do to climb out of the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic. The Biden-Harris Administration is acting aggressively to ensure that the millions of Americans who remain unemployed, through no fault of their own, can find safe, good-paying work as quickly as possible. That’s why the President is announcing today that the Administration will take steps to remove barriers that are preventing Americans from returning safely to good-paying work and take steps to make it easier for employers to hire new workers.

And, the President and the Administration will reaffirm the basic rules of the unemployment insurance (UI) program. Anyone receiving UI who is offered a suitable job must take it or lose their UI benefits. A core purpose of the UI program is helping workers get back to work, and UI provides laid-off workers with temporary assistance to help pay bills and relieve hardship. By reaffirming these rules and purposes, the Administration will ensure that the UI program continues to support workers and facilitate hiring.

Specifically, today the President is:

REMOVING BARRIERS THAT ARE KEEPING AMERICANS FROM RETURNING SAFELY TO GOOD-PAYING WORK

Accelerating the Provision of Assistance to Hard-Hit Child Care Providers to Get More Parents Back to Work

Between February 2020 and March 2021, 520,000 mothers and 170,000 fathers between ages 20 and 54 left the labor force and have not returned. Many need or want to work but cannot because of child care disruptions. At the same time, early childhood and child care providers – nearly all small businesses, overwhelmingly owned by women and disproportionately owned by people of color – have been hit hard by the pandemic. According to one survey, as of December, about one in four child care providers open at the start of the pandemic were closed, hindering access to care, especially for families of color. Child care providers that have stayed open have gone to enormous lengths to do so and are struggling to stay open: two in five providers report taking on debt for their programs using personal credit cards to pay for increased costs and three in five work in programs that have reduced expenses through layoffs, furloughs, or pay cuts. And, there are 150,000 fewer child care jobs today than there were at the beginning of the pandemic.

The American Rescue Plan provides funding to address the child care crisis caused by COVID-19 to help parents who need or want to work to return to their jobs. This includes funding to stabilize the child care industry so that parents can send their children to safe, healthy, stable child care environments and additional funding to help families access affordable, high-quality care, including by providing subsidized care to more than 800,000 families with the greatest need and by providing resources for hard-hit child care providers.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services is releasing guidance to states, tribes, and territories so that states can start getting the child care stabilization funding to providers immediately. The guidance will encourage states to get funding out quickly and to make it as easy as possible for hundreds of thousands of child care providers, including centers and family-based providers, to receive the funding. It will also encourage states to allow the funds to be used broadly to meet the unique needs of providers so they can reopen or maintain essential services. It will explain, for example, how they can use the funds to bolster their workforce, cover expenses like rent and utilities, and pay for goods and services needed to stay open or reopen. And, it will provide guidance on ways providers can use funds to help them operate according to CDC guidelines, so that as parents return to work, they can have peace of mind their children are in a safe and healthy learning environment. In all, these funds will support child care providers in keeping their doors open, benefiting the parents of more than 5 million children who rely on them to stay in or return to the labor force.

And, thanks to the historic expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) in the American Rescue Plan, families can rest assured that they can receive up to half of their child care expenses this year when they file taxes for 2021. A median income family with two kids under age 13 will receive a tax credit of up to $8,000 towards this year’s expenses, compared with a maximum of $1,200 previously.

Directing the Secretary of Labor to Safely Expand States’ Reemployment Services and Workforce Development Boards’ Jobs Counseling for Unemployment Beneficiaries.

States receive federal funding for Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessments (RESEA) of UI beneficiaries to help them find employment while ensuring they remain eligible for benefits. These services shorten workers’ time on unemployment benefits by helping them match with good jobs and confirm their eligibility for benefits. States significantly and appropriately slowed in-person RESEA meetings in the midst of historic unemployment and the COVID-19 pandemic. With the economy and jobs growing again, the President will direct the Secretary of Labor to issue guidance to states to quickly and safely – consistent with CDC and OSHA guidance – expand their RESEA programs so that more UI beneficiaries can return to work.

Similarly, the public workforce system’s Workforce Development Boards (WDB) collectively receive hundreds of millions of dollars they can use to provide individualized career counseling, called “individual career services,” to job seekers. However, because of the pandemic’s risks, many WDBs stopped providing in-person services and had to quickly transition to remote services. Now that tens of millions of Americans have been vaccinated, and we know how to operate physical locations safely, the President will direct the Secretary of Labor to work with the public workforce system to provide the maximum level possible of individual career services to UI beneficiaries and other unemployed workers using existing resources, and in a manner consistent with CDC and OSHA guidance.

MAKING IT EASIER FOR EMPLOYERS TO HIRE NEW WORKERS

Supporting Hard-Hit Restaurants and Bars

Restaurants, bars, and other small businesses offering on-site food and beverages are vital to our communities and economy. From big cities to small towns, these restaurants and bars offer communities a place to gather, celebrate, and share ideas. They also employed nearly 12 percent of all workers prior to the pandemic. Despite their importance, restaurants and bars have suffered severely during the pandemic. The leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants and bars, had 17 percent fewer jobs this April than in February 2020.

Though we have seen significant progress under the Biden-Harris Administration – leisure and hospitality added 331,000 jobs in April, by far the most of any industry and more than it added in March – there is still more work to do to help this critical sector recover. Established through the American Rescue Plan, the Biden-Harris Administration recently launched the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) – a program to aid restaurants, bars, food trucks, and other food and drink establishments. These grants will give restaurants and bars the flexibility to hire back workers at good wages. In the first two days of the program, 186,200 restaurants, bars, and other eligible businesses in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and five U.S. Territories applied for relief.

Today, the Administration is sending the first grants under the program to 16,000 hard-hit restaurants. These include restaurants in states and territories throughout the country, and restaurants owned and controlled by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

Providing States and Localities with the Resources They Need to Help Return Americans to Work

The American Rescue Plan delivered flexible Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds that will help state and local governments hire back public sector workers; ramp up the effectiveness of their COVID response and vaccination programs to make return to work, school, and care safer; and bolster efforts to help workers negatively affected by the pandemic to train for and secure good-paying jobs. With today’s announcement, the U.S. Department of Treasury is making the first segment of these funds available to states and localities and laying out how these funds can be used to address pandemic-response needs and support the communities and populations hardest-hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

State and local employment remains 1.3 million jobs down since before the pandemic. Learning from the mistakes of the Great Recession, when state and local government budget cuts were a drag on GDP growth for 23 of the 26 quarters following the crisis, the funds will provide these governments with the resources needed to help address challenges in returning Americans to work. This includes in the public sector, where state and local employment remains down over one million jobs since the start of the pandemic. Fiscal Recovery Funds will help bring firefighters, teachers, school staff, cops, and other public servants back to work.

Helping Employers – Especially Small Businesses – Rehire and Retain Workers Through the Extended and Expanded Employee Retention Credit

To help hard-hit employers rehire and retain workers, President Biden extended and expanded the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) in the American Rescue Plan. This year, the ERC offers eligible employers with 500 or fewer employees a tax credit of 70 percent of the first $10,000 in wages per employee per quarter. In other words, this refundable, advanceable credit will cover up to $7,000 in wages per quarter or $28,000 per year for each employee. For example:

  • A small independent retailer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with 25 employees has $130,000 in payroll expenses per quarter (all for employees earning less than $10,000 in the quarter), and experiences a 25 percent decline in gross receipts in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2019. The retailer is eligible for the Employee Retention Credit in the first quarter since it experienced a greater than 20 percent decline in gross receipts. The retailer is also eligible for the ERC in the second quarter because of the decline as compared to 2019 in the immediately preceding first quarter. The retailer can claim a tax credit of $91,000 in both the first and second quarters (for a total of $182,000). The amount of the tax credit would be applied against the retailer’s quarterly federal payroll tax amount, and then, assuming that the $91,000 was in excess of the total liability for the quarter, the excess would be advanced (or paid by the government directly to the retailer). If the retailer experienced declines in gross receipts in the third quarter as compared to 2019, it could claim an additional tax credit (in a similar amount) for the third quarter and the fourth quarter. The small retail business could use this advance – which could amount to tens of thousands of dollars – to rehire workers, raise wages, improve facilities, and purchase new inventory.

While more than 30,000 small businesses have already claimed more than $1 billion in ERCs this year, the Biden-Harris Administration is working to increase awareness of and participation in this beneficial program. Specifically, this week, the Treasury Department will disseminate clear and concise steps on how businesses can determine their eligibility and claim the ERC. These and other efforts will help businesses bring employees back sooner and keep them on the job as the economy recovers.

Helping Employers Ramp Back Up

As businesses ramp back up without knowing how many workers they will need to operate as the economy recovers, some will look to bring workers on part-time. The UI system offers options for these employers and their returning workers. Workers shouldn’t have to choose between losing their full UI benefits to take part-time work that represents only a portion of their original salary. The Department of Labor will announce this week how unemployed workers who are rehired part-time don’t have to face that choice. They can work part-time while still receiving part of their UI benefits so they can work and still make ends meet.

There are two programs that can help and the Department of Labor this week will help highlight them:

  • Short-Time Compensation: Short-time compensation was designed to help prevent layoffs by allowing workers to remain employed at reduced hours and still collect a portion of their UI benefits. But it can also be used to help employers rehire their already laid off workers. If an employer brings a laid-off employee back part-time and participates in the short-time compensation program, that worker will receive pro-rated UI benefits to help cover reduced compensation for not working full time, as well as the $300 weekly supplement until that supplement expires September 6th.

    The Biden-Harris Administration will highlight this program to help employers rehire their laid-off employees in the coming weeks and work to make it as easy as possible for employers and workers to participate. Short-time compensation programs are currently available in . These benefits are fully federally funded through September 6 for those states.
  • Partial UI: Another overlooked option for helping employers ramp up is the partial UI program, which allows workers to return to work at a new employer at reduced hours while still receiving some unemployment benefits. This is a good option for workers who may not qualify for short-time compensation because they are not returning to their previous employer. States can enhance the capacity of partial UI by raising the income threshold where workers can both work and receive some UI benefits, and the Department of Labor will be encouraging states to do so.

CLARIFYING RULES OF THE UI PROGRAM

This week, the Department of Labor will reaffirm longstanding UI requirements to make sure everyone, including states, employers, and workers, understands the rules of the road for UI benefits. These clarifications will also help ease a return to work. Specifically, the Secretary of Labor will issue a letter to states to reaffirm that individuals receiving UI may not continue to receive benefits if they turn down a suitable job due to a general, non-specific concern about COVID-19. In addition, the President is directing the Secretary of Labor to work with states to reinstate work search requirements for UI recipients, if health and safety conditions allow.

  • Clarifying Rules of UI Programs: The Department of Labor will clarify that, under all UI programs including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program put in place last year, workers may not turn down a job due to a general, non-specific concern about COVID-19 and continue to receive benefits. Under the PUA program, a worker may receive benefits if the worker certifies weekly that one of the few specific COVID-related reasons specified by Congress is the cause of their unemployment. These reasons include, for example, that the worker has a child at home who cannot go to school because of the pandemic or that the worker is offered a job at a worksite that is out of compliance with federal or state health requirements. Moreover, workers may not misreport a COVID-related reason for unemployment. The President is directing the Department of Labor to take concrete steps to raise awareness about these and other requirements.
  • Directing the Secretary of Labor to Work with States on Work Search Requirements: The President is directing the Secretary of Labor to work with states to reinstate work search requirements for UI recipients, if health and safety conditions allow. As part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed into law last year by the previous Administration, states receiving certain federal relief funds were required to waive their requirements that workers search for work in order to continue receiving unemployment benefits. While 29 states have already reinstated their work search requirements, the President is directing the Department of Labor to work with the remaining states, as health and safety conditions allow, to put in place appropriate work search requirements as the economy continues to rebound, vaccinations increase, and the pandemic is brought under control.

A core purpose of the UI program is helping workers get back to work. UI keeps workers connected to the labor market during spells of unemployment by providing workers with income that allows them to look for a job match commensurate with their skills or prior wages. UI recipients also gain access to crucial reemployment services to help with job search or retraining where necessary. Ensuring a good job match is good for workers, as well as employers who want the best candidates for their jobs.

Returning to work during a pandemic is more complicated than searching for work in ordinary times. The COVID-19 pandemic remains a genuine challenge for our country, with infections, hospitalizations, and deaths down substantially when compared with last year, but still at unacceptably high levels. While vaccinations are on the rise with over half of American adults having received at least one shot, around a quarter of those aged 18 to 29 and around a third of those aged 30 to 39 are fully vaccinated. There is a great deal more to do.

At the same time, our economy is growing again at an annual rate of more than 6% and more than 1.5 million jobs have been created over the last three months. Many more workers would like to return to work if they can overcome the barriers that stand in the way. We can and will continue to ensure workers and their families are protected from COVID-19, while also helping those who are able and available to search for good jobs in safe and healthy workplaces.

###

Work Searches are (not) back

Update (3 Feb. 2021): Thankfully, the Department has announced through a FAQ that work searches will continue to be waived through another emergency rule. I will have details when they emerge. For now:

Work Search FAQ

I heard the work search is no longer waived as of February 7, 2021. Is that true?
No. The work search requirement will continue to be waived at this time. We will update you when that changes. 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.

Is a claimant required to search for work during the COVID-19 pandemic?
As a result of an Emergency Rule you do not need to do a work search at this time. No action is needed on your part regarding the work search. However, some individuals may be required to register with JCW. These are two separate requirements.

I was notified that I needed to register for work. Since I do not have to look for work, do I need to register?
Yes, if you were notified you need to register, you are required to register within 14 days of applying for unemployment (filing your initial claim).

Some individuals who apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI) may be required to register for work, which means registering with the Job Center of Wisconsin (JCW). You will be notified upon completion of your claim if you are required to complete the registration, and will be given instructions how to do so.

Update (8 Feb. 2021): The Department has released a new emergency rule 2106, which effectively duplicates the old emergency rule for waiving work searches. The new emergency rule will expire on 10 July 2021.

Original post: Work searches in Wisconsin — a statutory requirement per Wis. Stat. § 108.04(2)(a)3 — were initially waived per Gov. Evers’ emergency order #7 and then emergency rule 2006.

This emergency rule was renewed twice and so slated to expire on 2 February 2021 if a new emergency rule was not enacted. With no subsequent emergency rule, the waiver of the four job searches a week is now over. Claimants wanting to receive regular unemployment benefits, PUA benefits, or PEUC benefits now need to do four job searches a week with each weekly certification.

Even if you cannot do a weekly claim certification at the moment (for instance, because your PUA benefits are on hold), you should still do four job searches and keep records for of those searches.

The work search log files are available here in DOC and PDF formats.

Directions for how to complete these forms are available here.

When filing your weekly claim certification, you will be prompted with the following screen:

Weekly work search entry form

After “agreeing” to these requirements, you are then prompted to begin entering each work search action:

Work seach action reporting form

Start doing your four job searches this week for the unemployment claim you will need to report on your weekly certification next week.

And, IMPORTANTLY, keep your job search records for one year, as the Department audits all job searches at some point and has up to a year to do an audit of any claimant after that claimant starts filing his or her weekly certifications.

Job center of Wisconsin registration

This registration requirement has remained unchanged and unaffected by the pandemic. Once done, your job center of Wisconsin registration should look like:

Successful job center registration

After a certain number of months, you will need to renew this registration.

Job search training seminar (RESEA)

This attendance requirement has remained in place throughout the pandemic. As noted previously, the Department switched from attending an in-person seminar to a seminar done through e-mail, on-line communications, and phone calls.

DWD/Evers emergency order issued

Wisconsin released an emergency order late last night. The order does quite a lot.

  1. Availability for work exists even when suspected of being sick or in quarantine.
  2. Suspected of being sick or in quarantine constitutes good cause for missing an eligibility review (a typo in the order mistakenly refers to section 2 when it should state section 1).
  3. Absences from work do not legally exist while a public health emergency is declared if the absences are connected to quarantine.
  4. There are no job search requirements during the public health emergency, retroactive to March 12th (the date a public health emergency was declared).

There is nothing yet about those losing work because they are caring for ill family members or who cannot work because kids are no longer in school or childcare.

Note: There are statutory exceptions already which allow benefits for these circumstances, but the Department has been extremely tough in applying these exceptions. It is important for the Department to indicate it will acknowledge and apply these provisions of unemployment law to allow unemployment benefits in light of what this pandemic is doing and the public health emergency it is creating.

It also appears that there is a loophole in how the Department will be applying this emergency order. The order only mentions those who are suspected of being ill or who are in quarantine for perceived or possible symptoms. If a person is actually ill, it appears that unemployment benefits will be denied because the person is not able to work in light of his or her actual illness. So, do not get sick during this public health emergency if you want to receive unemployment benefits.

In any case, the emergency order is a good start. These changes apply for the duration of the public health emergency.

Note: the waiting week for unemployment benefits remains in place until legislators convene and pass a new law temporarily (or permanently) removing the waiting week. Gov. Evers has requested that the waiting week be temporarily lifted.

As far as the Department’s other eligibility requirements, they all remain in place. The Department’s corona virus FAQ has been updated with additional information, for instance:

All Re-Employment Services sessions scheduled after Friday, March 20, 2020 will be conducted over the phone as “tele-sessions.” What participants should know:

  • After registering on JCW and creating a resume, individuals may be asked to view an online orientation and take an assessment
  • At the end of the assessment, participants will be informed if they must participate in the Re-Employment Services program
  • Participants will asked to sign up for a three-hour window for the “tele-session”
  • The participant will be called at some point during the three-hour window they have selected
  • A presentation will be emailed to the participant prior to the phone call for reference
  • The participant must be available and answer the phone when called by the Re-Employment Services facilitator
  • The facilitator will call twice
  • Failure to answer the phone after the two attempts could result in a loss of UI benefits
  • The incoming call may be from an “unknown” or “blocked” caller

It is up the to the participant to ensure their contact information is correct. Contact information can be reviewed on JobCenterofWisconsin.com under “My Account” on the top right of the screen.

As indicated here, creating a resume on JobCenterofWisconsin.com remains a requirement. For those in their homes with only a smart phone for Internet access, good luck on creating that resume and meeting these requirements.

Update (20 Mar. 2020): Here is the Department’s initial internal guidance about how to apply the emergency order:

  • Work Search — The work search is satisfied during the COVID-19 emergency beginning last week, the week ending 03/14/2020.
  • Work Registration (done on JCW) — If notified of requirement, claimants must register as required. Unless good cause for failing to register, benefits will be denied.
  • Re-employment Services — If selected, claimants will be scheduled to participate by telephone. Unless good cause for failing to participate is determined, benefits will be denied.
  • Able and Available — Federal requirements require the claimant to be able and available for suitable work. However, if claimant is prevented from returning to work by the employer due to perceived symptoms of COVID-19 or is quarantined AND either of the of the following apply the claimant may be able and available for work:
    • Employer instructs to return and claimant intends to return OR
    • Would be able and available for work with another employer except for those same reasons.

Quarantine must be by a medical professional or Government direction or guidance.

  • Work Available — If the claimant is prevented by the employer from returning to working due to perceived COVID-19 symptoms or quarantined, there is no work actually available.

 

States’ unemployment responses to the pandemic

Update 2 (17 Mar. 2020): At a video presser this afternoon, Gov. Evers announced that he would be proposing legislation to end the waiting week on unemployment benefits, waiving job search requirements for those quarantined, and making further changes to able and available status. There were no details or a written press release that I can locate. Gov. Evers indicated that the proposals would be released tomorrow, March 18th.

Update 1 (17 Mar. 2020): Slate reports that state unemployment websites and systems are crashing throughout the nation given the unprecedented number of people being laid off from jobs and filing unemployment claims.

As previously noted, Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development has offered a misleading, contradictory, and unsympathetic response so far to the pandemic.

Here are a few examples. In the FAQ provided to employees and employers, the following information is offered:

Q: I am required to attend a re-employment services session. I don’t want to go to a public location until the coronavirus has run its course. What will happen if I miss my session?

A: If you fail to attend your mandatory session, you will be denied unemployment benefits unless it is determined you had good cause for missing the session.

DWD could be stating here that being quarantined is good cause. Even better, DWD could say that these requirements are being suspended for all claimants for the time being because of the pandemic and the need to keep large gatherings of people to a minimum. Instead, in this response DWD is not doing anything that makes unemployment benefits actually useful and accessible during this pandemic.

Q: If an employee is in mandatory quarantine because of suspicion of having the coronavirus, will they be eligible for unemployment benefits?

A: They might meet the initial eligibility criteria but not the ongoing federal eligibility criteria, which require them to be able to work, available for work, and actively seeking suitable work.

Able and available — the unemployment issue in play here — is required by federal law in a general sense but is specifically defined and applied under state law. So, California is already allowing benefits under its own definitions and application of what able and available means.

In this FAQ, Wisconsin makes no mention at all of how its cumbersome work search and registration requirements will be massaged in light of a pandemic that is leading businesses across the board to shut down. Why should anyone be required to do four job searches a week, for instance, when work is disappearing faster than a squirrel chased by a cat or dog?

Even more troubling, the one Wisconsin program that directly addresses the economic slow-down created by this pandemic — work-share — was only mentioned in a FAQ for program partners, and that FAQ has since been removed from DWD’s website (a press release is still available).

The Department of Workforce Development has released a statement of scope for an emergency rule to modify DWD 127 — work search requirements and DWD 128 — able and available requirements. The only description of proposed changes in this document is:

The Department of Workforce Development proposes to amend DWD 127 to provide for an additional waiver of the work search requirement for the limited class of claimants who are job attached, otherwise eligible, and who are isolated or quarantined due to COVID-19. This will result in these claimants not being required to search for work during the isolation or quarantine period. The rule will also address work search actions for claimants.

The Department proposes to amend DWD 128 to provide for eligibility provisions related to the availability for work and work available requirements for claimants who are job attached, otherwise eligible, and who are isolated or quarantined due to COVID-19. These changes will provide that such claimants are considered available for work even though they are isolated or quarantined.

So, it is unclear what will happen to the numerous other requirements the Department maintains — like attending a job search seminar or registering on the job center of Wisconsin website — for claimants to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Other states have been both more decisive and less encumbered in responding to the pandemic. Here is a description of some of those efforts.

Massachusetts

The Department of Unemployment Assistance for Massachusetts has already issued policy guidance that declares individuals in quarantine to be able and available for work. A bill has also been introduced to waive the one-week waiting period for the duration of the pandemic. Finally, emergency regulations create a category of “standby status” for claimants that automatically makes them able and available for work, considers “suitable work” to include being in quarantine for numerous reasons, and indicates that the pandemic provides good cause for claimants and employers for missing numerous filing and appeal deadlines.

Ohio

Unlike in Wisconsin, the FAQ in Ohio provides simple and straightforward answers on eligibility issues. For instance:

Question 3: If an employer lays off employees due to the loss of production caused by the coronavirus, will the employees be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits?

Answer: Yes, if the employees are otherwise eligible. An executive order issued by Governor DeWine expands flexibility for Ohioans to receive unemployment benefits during Ohio’s emergency declaration period.

Question 4: If an employee receives unemployment benefits as a result of a coronavirus-related business shutdown, will the employer’s unemployment taxes increase?

Answer: For contributory employers, charges during Ohio’s emergency declaration period will be mutualized. Reimbursing employers will follow existing charging requirements under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4141.

Links and phone numbers for filing an unemployment claim are even provided at the bottom of the FAQ. And, an executive order from Ohio’s governor indicates that:

  1. Unemployed workers will include individuals requested by a medical professional, local health authority, or employer to be isolated or quarantined as a consequence of COVID-19 even if not actually diagnosed with COV-19; and
  2. Individuals totally or partially unemployed, or who are participating in the Shared Work Ohio Program will not be required to serve a waiting period before receiving unemployment insurance or SharedWork benefits; and
  3. Any benefit paid on these unemployment claims shall not be charged to the account of the employer who otherwise would have been charged but instead shall be charged to the mutualized account, except reimbursing employers; and
  4. Waiver of work search requirements shall include those individuals requested by a medical professional,local health authority or employer to be isolated or quarantined as a consequence of COVID-19 even if not actually diagnosed with COV-19; and
  5. Penalties for late reporting and payments will be waived for employers affected by COVID-19.

Washington

One of the states hit earliest in this pandemic, Washington has already issued emergency rules to expand coverage on a number of fronts. A chart is now available to explain when unemployment benefits can be offered:

Washington-Covid19 and unemployment benefits

Pennsylvania

Julia Simon-Mishel of Philadelphia Legal Assistance reports:

The PA Department of Labor and Industry has been very receptive to our recommendations and pro-active in addressing the public health crisis.

I have been in constant communication with the Deputy Secretary and the Appeals System Administrator. The Department has:

    • waived the waiting week
    • waived all work search requirements, including:
      • registration with the state job search website
      • weekly job searches
      • RESEA (all classes have been canceled)

       

 

Fortunately, our state law allows them to put a waiver in place and there was no hesitation to do that once the Governor declared a state of emergency.

PA UC law already provides coverage for workers who have quit jobs due to unsafe working conditions. There is also coverage for taking care of sick family members.

The Department is also working on language the will broaden who is considered “able and available” for work, as I have been concerned that people sent home for colds, or who have to watch their children because of school closings, would be considered ineligible. They have told us they will be as liberal as possible in granting benefits within the confines of DOL guidance.

At first we were told that all new PA UC Referee hearings will be scheduled as telephone hearings (ours are still typically in person). However, that was recently taken back by the administrator and we were informed they were cancelling hearings. We have launched strong objections to that and are hopefully that will not be the final decision.

One of our biggest concerns is that UC does not have the staffing to handle this crisis, especially if people need to work remotely. Unfortunately, our old mainframe computer system is not the most flexible, but they are working on a tool that would let them access it remotely, as well as setting up staff to field calls remotely. PA is currently in the middle of a benefits modernization project but our new system is not set to go live until October (if that even happens given the crisis). The Department will need to drastically ramp up staffing. The other major concern is that our web application is clunky and not mobile responsive. Workforce centers and libraries are closed, so people do not have access to computers outside their home. If folks cannot get through on the phones to file a claim, they will have no good way of filing. My organization is looking into ways to reallocate resources and pull in pro bono volunteers to help people file claims online during the crisis.

I am hearing non-stop from those working in the gig economy wanting to know if they can get benefits. In PA, that would be an uphill battle that would most likely end up in our state Supreme Court, as no earnings from gig companies are reported as wages. Therefore, unless a worker had enough separate W2 wages to qualify financially, they are shut out of this system. The other problem is people who do qualify from losing a full time W2 job but then start driving for UberEats, Grubhub, etc to help make ends meet. They constantly get disqualified by the lower level decision-makers. Our Department has refused to apply current precedent which holds that when workers engage in gig economy or short term work after losing their normal employment, it should not be disqualifying under PA’s “self-employment” provision (Lowman v. UCBR, 178 A.3d 896 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2018)). The case is currently up on appeal to the PA SCT, we are waiting for a decision at any moment.

So, numerous states are being creative and acting quickly in light of this pandemic. Wisconsin, the state that invented unemployment insurance, seems to be dragging its feet.

Note: Political party is not indicative of these responses. Both Massachusetts and Ohio have Republican governors. Indeed, Mitt Romney has recently proposed giving $1000 to every US adult.

Corona virus, federal legislation, and Wisconsin plans

Federal legislation

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.

In addition, OSHA has supplied detailed workplace guidance on COVID-19 issues. All employers and employees should read through this document and other information.

Wisconsin plans

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.

Corona virus, being sick, and unemployment

Legislation

As economic news gets worse by the hour, there are now several efforts to address the problems being created by this pandemic. Michele Evermore of NELP reports that following provisions in the House emergency relief bill:

This legislation accomplishes our highest emergency priority — emergency administrative funding for state agencies to staff up to process an increasing workload. States are at historic low funding levels because funding is tied to the unemployment rate from last year — in which unemployment was at historic lows.

This bill authorizes $1 billion in funding. The first $500 million would be based on the current distribution formula and would automatically flow to states that have increased claims attributable to the outbreak. As states receive this funding, however, states with low recipiency must make plans to improve the number of workers who can access benefits.

The second $500 million would flow to states that take certain COVID-19 related emergency steps, including:

  • Waiving the work search requirement — it is a matter of common sense and public health for workers whose search involves in person contact to suspend this requirement during a pandemic.
  • Waiving the waiting period — it is critical that we get benefits to workers as fast as possible during this crisis so as to forestall or weaken an ensuing bigger recession.
  • Ensuring that employers understand that their experience rating — or UI tax rate – will not be affected by outbreak-related claims

Finally, in the event that a recession follows this outbreak, this legislation waives a penalty in the federal Extended Benefits language for waiving waiting weeks.

Federal guidance

The Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration has issued an official Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 10-20 that attempts to clarify eligibility issues for those affected by this pandemic. Unfortunately, it is so full of exceptions and legalese that this program letter actually provides little to no guidance or clarification. For instance, in explaining whether someone who stops going to work because of a reasonable risk of contracting the illness or being quarantined by medical professionals, this program letter explains:

If permitted under the state’s good cause/just cause provision, states should consider how they will adjudicate the reasonableness of an individual’s separation for reasonable risk of exposure. One such factor could be considering if the individual is in a population thatis particularly susceptible to COVID-19.

This statement basically says that COVID-19 can provide a basis for allowing benefits if state law would allow those benefits. I am not sure anyone would say this explanation clarifies anything.

NELP and others

NELP has two short pieces describing how the federal government and the states can maximize access to the unemployment and disaster unemployment assistance programs to provide benefits to workers who lose their jobs, are temporarily separated from work, or have their hours reduced for reasons related to the Corona virus.

A number of states and state agencies have pushed for various reforms of late. Of note, this effort by the Texas AFL-CIO deserves attention. And, California’s unemployment agency has released an excellent FAQ which other states should take a serious look at. And, this Ohio policy brief offers sage advice (of particular note, waiving work search requirements).

Finally, a few private companies are attempting to tweak sick leave policies (or create sick leave where none previously existed) in light of the pandemic.

For now, however, none of these proposals are actually being implemented. So, make sure to heed the advice of this earlier post.

Pandemic and unemployment issues

Here is a quick update from NELP on what claimants should know if covid-19 leads to their unemployment in some way [emphasis on printing pay stubs now supplied]:

There are two things worth talking about – most immediately, UI in a pandemic, but secondly a troubling [Training and Employment Notice] on work search.

First, because we are getting many inquiries about UI and a pandemic, these are some of our initial thoughts, but we welcome any insight/collaboration with partners.

  1. People whose business shut down but are not sick and are able and available basically meet the standard of having lost work through no fault of their own (states may vary in that interpretation, but we believe those workers should get UI)
  2. An important first step that Congress and states should be thinking about is administrative funding – state agencies are already understaffed because federal funds relate to the unemployment rates. A pandemic could further depress those staffing levels at time of increased initial claims. More funding and an emergency staffing plan is important.
  3. Companies who lose business due to the pandemic, but are not shutting down due to the pandemic, but feel they need to lay off some people should strongly consider work sharing instead of layoffs
  4. We would encourage states to waive both work search and the waiting week in the case of a pandemic. Work search is especially urgent – while many qualifying searches can take place online, we still live in a world where in-person activities happen for lower wage work.
  5. People are asking, and yes – DUA may kick in if the president declares an area to be a disaster area triggering individual assistance, but that only applies to people who exhaust regular UI or are otherwise not eligible (ie self employed). Maurice Emsellem is NELP’s DUA lead and has been working for overall reform, outlined in this document: https://www.nelp.org/publication/responding-at-the-federal-and-state-levels-to-the-needs-of-unemployed-families-resulting-from-hurricanes-harvey-and-irma/  This would be a big step toward pandemic readiness.
  6. Workers should print their pay stubs now just in case, it may be difficult for agencies to verify pay if no one is there to take inquiries at the work site.
  7. This is why we need paid sick and family leave. Workers who are not able and available can’t receive UI for weeks they are sick. No one should experience a financial crisis because they are sick.

Also, I suspect most of you have seen the model legislation contained in this [Training and Employment Notice]: https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=4227. One of the suggested components is that the agency identify openings that would qualify as suitable work and share with claimants, who would then have one week to apply or be disqualified for UI. Obviously, we find this to be an egregious overreach for obvious reasons – but we’d welcome any thoughts from you all, as well as any heads up if you see any of your states moving to adopt new work search rules.

Thanks, and stay well everyone –
Michele Evermore

Obviously, much of the current federal and state concerns about searching for work in the midst of a pandemic should be considered — at best — a nonsensical requirement. Searching for work, even on-line, requires job interviews and contact that may not be possible either because businesses have too few staff or claimants are ill themselves and should not be going out in public.

Advice about printing pay stubs is important. During the last federal shut down, many federal workers could not get unemployment benefits because no procedures had been put in place to respond to inquires from state unemployment departments to verify the wages of federal claimants. Having your own pay stubs in paper makes such inquiries a secondary matter of importance.

Skills gap for the unemployed more wishful thinking than reality

Matthew Yglesias has some news about the latest in labor market research. Those who were applying for jobs and having to go through three to five rounds of interviews and be an absolutely perfect “fit” for the job already know the answer: the skills gap is more myth than reality.

Now, there is some cutting edge research from economists to back up that story. The takeaway of this research:

employers responded to high unemployment [during the recession] by making their job descriptions more stringent. When unemployment went down thanks to the demand-side recovery, suddenly employers got more relaxed again.

What folks need to start paying attention too, however, is how national job numbers are covering up a TON of variation from state to state. The job market in Minnesota is today nothing like the job market in Wisconsin. And, as indicated previously, changes in denial rates across the fifty states vary dramatically and have changed significantly in numerous states since 2010 because of an explosion in use of “other reasons” to deny unemployment benefits to claimants.

So, as always, in Wisconsin make sure to review these tips for filing an unemployment claim.

Darth Maul wants all your UI claims