Today the state assembly convened in a session outside their normal floor schedule to attempt to stop federal unemployment aid.
The GOP-led chamber met in what’s called an “extraordinary session” to put a stop to enhanced unemployment checks that were beefed up during the pandemic.
It was an attempt to override a veto from Governor Evers. Earlier this month, Evers shot down the legislature’s attempt to end enhanced federal unemployment aid in Wisconsin. Under that program, set to expire in about six weeks, Wisconsinites receiving unemployment receive an additional $300 in federal aid, on top of the state’s typical unemployment benefits.
Speaking at a pre-session press conference, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said that ending the supplemental aid was a crucial first step in addressing the state’s worker shortage.
“Do I believe that simply by overriding Governor Evers’ veto today, that that will instantly solve the crisis that we have with unemployment? It’s not a silver bullet, there’s no doubt about that,” Vos told reporters. “But is it a major part of the problem? Yes.”
The Republican-led attempt to override the veto failed on a party-line vote. GOP legislators needed at least five Democrats to join their side for the two-thirds majority necessary to bypass the Governor.
Speaking on the Assembly floor, Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz pointed out that Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has been relatively low, despite the continued unemployment supplements.
“Literally, you can look right at the unemployment numbers — they continue to go down. Fewer and fewer people are filing for unemployment. They’ve gone down since the $300 bump,” Hintz said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was about four percent in June. That’s down from a high of over ten percent last May, and sits well below the national unemployment rate of about six percent.
But weekly unemployment claims increased from 50,500 to 56,100 in the first few weeks of July — a point Speaker Vos seized on when addressing the Assembly.
Said Vos: “How is that even possible when there isn’t a street in any town in the entire state where there is not at least one ‘Help Wanted’ sign?”
While lawmakers were in town, Governor Tony Evers introduced several proposals to divert $550 million dollars in financial aid to Wisconsin’s schools.
That would have included $440 million dollars to the state’s k-12 schools, and $110 million dollars towards higher education institutions — including the UW system and Wisconsin’s technical college system.
In a video posted to Twitter yesterday, Evers announced that he’d be calling a special session of the legislature overlapping with today’s extraordinary session. A special session can be called by the Governor for the legislature to take up urgent items.
“If they’re going to come to Madison, then they have work to do,” Evers said in the pre-taped address. “That’s why I’m calling a special session of the legislature for tomorrow, when they’ll already be here at the capitol, so that they can use that time to also make the meaningful investments in our kids and schools that they should have made in the budget.”
But while Evers can convene the legislature into session, lawmakers aren’t required to take up any of the Governor’s proposals. And that’s exactly what happened today, as legislative leaders gaveled into and out of the special session without taking any action.
The defunct special session comes after legislative Republicans included $128 million in additional school funding in Wisconsin’s biennial budget — less than a tenth of the Governor’s initial proposal. Despite that, Evers signed the spending plan earlier this month, citing fears that extending the budget battle could jeopardize federal financial aid to Wisconsin’s schools.
So nobody got what they wanted and everybody left disappointed — but that’s Wisconsin politics.
The legislature is slated to reconvene in late September.
Hear UW-Madison labor economist Laura Dresser weigh in on the debate over enhanced federal unemployment aid.
Photos by Jonah Chester