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Cullen urging lawmakers to act to get federal aid

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
June 23, 2011
— Sen. Tim Cullen is urging state officials to pass legislation that would release $89 million in federal funding to pay extended unemployment compensation for state workers.

The money would not have to be paid back, the Janesville Democrat argued, and it would be spent in Wisconsin's economy.


Republican lawmakers, who control the Legislature, seem reluctant to do what is necessary to get the money, however. Some say it would encourage workers to stay unemployed rather than return to work.


"I do not buy the argument that extended benefits encourage people to stay unemployed," Cullen wrote in a letter to the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council on Tuesday. "That may be true in some isolated cases, but I believe most people want to work and would gladly accept a job that supports them and their families. The maximum weekly unemployment benefit of $363 is equivalent to wages of $9 an hour."


The advisory council comprises labor and management. The Legislature normally acts when the council recommends action, but the council has not acted, even after Gov. Scott Walker recommended that it do so on April 25.


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described Walker's support for the legislation as "tepid."


The Legislature did approve a related item that the governor recommended, delaying unemployment benefits by one week.


The one-week delay would save the state's indebted unemployment insurance fund $41?million to $56.2?million a year by preventing workers from receiving that money, the Journal-Sentinel reported.


The measure is in the 2011-13 state budget, which is awaiting Walker's signature.


It's the recession and lack of jobs, not unemployment compensation, that is the major force keeping workers from working, Cullen argued, citing a study by economists from the Federal Reserve Rank of San Francisco.


Obtaining the $89 million would not increase the debt of the state's unemployment insurance fund, but Cullen is concerned about that problem. He sent a letter to Walker on Wednesday, suggesting that the solution come from a bipartisan panel that includes the Legislature's minority and majority leaders.


A similar panel was used to find a compromise to the same problem in 1983, when Democrats controlled both the Legislature and governorship—the opposite of the political balance today—Cullen noted.



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