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Wisconsin Senate sends benefit restriction bills to governor

MADISON, Wis., (AP) — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate passed a package of Republican-authored bills designed to force more people into the workforce by tightening the qualifications for receiving unemployment benefits and Medicaid coverage.

The Assembly passed the bills last week. The Senate’s approval on Tuesday sends them to Gov. Tony Evers, who almost certainly will veto them. Opponents, including Democratic lawmakers, contend the bills would only make life harder for people trying to find work.

One proposal passed would reinstate a three-month limit on food-stamp eligibility if recipients don’t comply with work requirements and drug testing. Evers’ administration dropped the deadline due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another bill would tie the amount of time someone can collect unemployment benefits to the unemployment rate. Right now, someone who is unemployed can collect benefits for up to 26 weeks. Under the bill, the number of weeks someone is eligible would shrink as the unemployment rate drops, from 26 weeks to a minimum of 14 weeks.

Other measures would force the administration to enact a state law that requires some people to take drug tests to qualify for unemployment benefits; prohibit government officials from declaring a business essential or nonessential; prohibit automatic renewal of Medicaid benefits and instead require state health officials to determine a person’s eligibility every six months; require the state Department of Workforce Development to extend its call center hours; and require the DWD to randomly audit at least half of all work search actions that unemployment benefit recipients report.

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