Wisconsin Leads In Extending Jobless Aid
By Doug Cunningham, Special to Stateline
Hit hard by the recession, Wisconsin had the fourth-highest jobless rate in the country in 2001, according to a U.S. Labor Department report issued on January 29th.Republican Gov. Scott McCallum signed a measure extending the 26-week limit into law on February 12.
The benefits extension applies only to workers who file unemployment claims between March 11, 2001 and December 31st, 2002.
"I'm proud to say that Wisconsin is the first state in the nation to protect its displaced workers by approving this extension without waiting for action on the federal front," McCallum said.
The extension will cost approximately $109 million and will be paid from Wisconsin's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. If the federal government extends benefits later, much of that cost will be reimbursed by Washington.
The state's trust fund has roughly $1.6 billion now, but if it continues to be drawn down at the current rate state officials estimate it will be down to $117 million by 2004. Businesses are expected to pay higher payroll taxes in the next couple of years to bolster the fund.
"It has been a difficult year for the entire nation with the slowing of the economy and the terrorist acts of September 11th creating a climate of uncertainty," McCallum said, "The least we can do is offer our displaced workers a safety net to help them get through this challenging time."
Wisconsin was the first state to offer unemployment insurance, launching the program in 1932 - three years ahead of the federal government.
As he signed the unemployment benefits extension, McCallum said there are already signs that Wisconsin's economy is rebounding. He cited a drop of 36 percent in the number of new unemployment claims between the first week of January and the beginning of February as one sign.
McCallum said companies in Wisconsin are putting an emphasis on retaining their workers as they prepare for the economic turnaround. But he said the benefits extension will help take care of "friends, neighbors and loved ones" until the economic recovery picks up steam.
Doug Cunningham is state legislative correspondent for the Wisconsin Radio Network.