Gov. Tony Evers cited fixing the unemployment insurance (UI) benefits system as a high priority during his State of the State speech on Jan. 12. He called a special session of the Legislature to take place Tuesday to take up bills to fix the problems that have plagued the UI benefits office during the COVID-19 pandemic as claims skyrocketed.
The call to fix these policies came after months of legislative Republicans faulting Evers for delays in benefit payments and the inability of many jobless people to reach the Department of Workforce Development to check on the status of their claims. However, the Republicans refused to consider measures to address the problem, gaveling in and then adjourning the session Tuesday, taking no action.
“So what is their plan?” asked Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz in a statement after no session took place. “Republicans say their constituents are struggling with lagging payments from an antiquated system, but then refuse to take action on measures that would help address the problem. Choosing to play politics and point fingers at Gov. Evers at the expense of helping those who are struggling with the economic fallout from the pandemic is unacceptable.”
Hintz said the refusal to act quickly was “all too reminiscent of legislative Republicans’ delay last April, which cost our state $25 million in funds that could have gone to Wisconsinites who had lost jobs due to the pandemic.”
Republicans, however, have been saying Evers can fix the problems and does not need their help. This is the opposite of many of their other actions in the divided administration — from public health orders to COVID-19 relief funds, where they have wanted to wrest control from the governor. When it comes to special sessions, Republicans have balked at taking action if it is something Evers has requested, gaveling in with several members present and then adjourning, as they did on Tuesday.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) labeled it a “headline-baiting special session” and accused the governor of passing the buck.
“Gov. Evers knows full well that he’s had the power to initiate the changes he’s asking for without a special session or bill from the legislative branch,” said Steineke in a statement. “If he’s waiting for permission to start fixing the problem — he already has that authority and should waste no more time in working to address the system’s shortcomings.”