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Unemployment benefits at risk under GOP move

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A disagreement among Republicans in the Legislature over whether unemployed people in Wisconsin should have to wait a week before receiving unemployment benefits is putting an extension of coverage for the jobless at risk.

The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the one-week waiting period in the state budget passed last month. But in a bipartisan vote on Tuesday, the Senate agreed to remove it as part of a bill that approves extending federal unemployment benefits for 13 weeks.

The Assembly on Wednesday agreed to the unemployment extension, but Republicans voted to reinstate the one-week waiting period. No Democrats voted to support reinstating the waiting period, but the extension of benefits passed on a bipartisan 81-16 vote.

Since the bill passed in a different form than what the Senate approved, it must pass there again before it heads to Gov. Scott Walker.

A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald refused to say Wednesday if or when the Senate would take up the bill again.

“At the end of the day, there are still 225,000 people out of work in Wisconsin,” Fitzgerald spokesman Andrew Welhouse said. “That’s far too many, and the end goal here is to get them working again.”

Assembly Democrats criticized Republicans for the move, which at the very least indefinitely delays the bill.

“You are killing this bill,” said Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee. She said her office had been deluged with calls from unemployed workers concerned about losing the benefits.

The extension, which amounts to $88 million in federal benefits, was estimated to help up to 40,000 out-of-work residents. Passing it was recommended by a state council that oversees jobless benefits.

Walker supports both extending the unemployment benefits and keeping the one-week delay, said his spokesman Cullen Werwie.

Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, defended the waiting period, saying it would save the state between $41 million and $56 million.

The federal extension kicks in for the unemployed after they have been out of work for 73 weeks. The benefits are worth up to $363 a week and would be available retroactively to April, when they ended.

Unemployment statewide was 7.4 percent in May.

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