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Capital City Sunday: Unemployment policies, Senator asks POTUS for an apology & rural schools on reopening

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MADISON (WKOW) -- With thousands of people still waiting for their unemployment check, the issue is creating a partisan divide with both sides blaming each other for a delay in payments. 

Currently, about 141,00 people are waiting to receive a check, a backlog that Republicans are blaming on Gov. Tony Evers administration. Democrats argue Republican laws make it harder for people to qualify by requiring them to make more money along with fewer exceptions.  

Former Gov. Scott Walker, who enacted policies in 2013, which creates more hurdles when trying to receive benefits, said the backlog in claims has nothing to do with policy changes Republicans made. 

“The changes are not because of policies in the past, the changes are because they have such an incredible backlog,” said Walker. 

When these laws were enacted years ago, the unemployment level was less than 3%. Prior to 2013, state law made an exception for a number of instances, including people who quit one of multiple jobs they held, as long as one of the jobs provided full-time hours.

Act 20 removed nine of those protections, including the exception for people with multiple jobs. Prior to Act 20, the following exceptions applied for people who voluntarily left a job under state statute 108.04 (7): (d), (g), (j), (k), (m), (n), (o), (p) and (r).  

When pressed on whether he would encourage his GOP colleagues to accept changes to the laws he said lawmakers could, but reiterated it’s not a solution to the backlog.

“Making changes is fine, but that’s not the hang-up. You need more state government employees to process these claims.” 

Evers recently reassigned 100 state employees to help the Department of Workforce Development process unemployment claims, yet Republicans still don’t think it’s enough.

This week Democrats introduced bills to overhaul how unemployment claims are processed and say the proposals would remove obstacles to receive benefits. 

Meanwhile, Republicans would rather use some of the federal CARES act funding to pay benefits of those waiting weeks, sometimes months, to become qualified.

The June unemployment rate in Wisconsin is 8.5 percent, down from 12 percent in May.

Republican National Convention Scaled Back Due to COVID

The former governor also said where COVID-19 cases stand today, he wouldn’t attend the Republican National Convention scheduled for August 24-27th. 

“I've got concerns and I’ve been cautious about crowds, so will have to wait and see but right now I wouldn’t go today,” said Walker. 

A portion of the event will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina with the rest of the events in Jacksonville Flordia where President Trump says he will formally accept his nomination. 

The RNC will restrict attendance at both events as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Walker is also encouraging Wisconsinites to wear masks to help reduce the spread of the virus.

“Wearing masks should not be a political issue. The bottom line is that if we want the economy to stay open we as individuals have to take some responsibility.”

State Senator Recounts Attack at Madison Protest

State Sen. Tim Carpenter feels better, but not 100 percent after he said he suffered a concussion and broken nose after protesters kicked and punched him to the ground weeks ago near the capitol.

Carpenter is hoping others will learn from his experience and believes there should be more conversations between community members and the police. 

"Right now, there's a breakdown of communication with a lot of people in our society," Carpenter said.

He’s now looking ahead, ready to put this behind him but wants an apology from President Trump after he accused the senator of “rooting on” protesters before his assault.  

“I certainly would like an apology from the president for lying about those things because it only threw more gas into the fire in what was happening,” he said. 

Reopening Plans for Rural Schools

Because of the pandemic, many parents and students are still wondering what will happen in the fall when school begins. For rural schools, it may look a bit different as the number of positive cases in these areas are typically lower compared to others. 

Kim Kaukl, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, said districts have been scrambling trying to prepare for the fall but worries about having enough resources to teach remotely if schools have to close again. 

“A lot of rural budgets are already tight and are we going to have enough money to buy pieces of technology, enough money for hotspots, and the answer is we don’t,” said Kaukl.

As for being prepared for the school year, Kaukl said rural district are doing their best with limited resources but also doesn’t believe any district is “fully prepared.”

“All it's going to take is one or two students or staff to have an outbreak and then change plans immediately and then close parts or the entire school down,” he said.

An on-going survey by WRSA found some of the biggest challenges to reopening for districts are class sizes, in-person vs. virtual, and social distancing guidelines. 

Out of 157 districts, 70 responded as of July 17th. It also found 13 districts are planning to require staff and students to wear masks. Meanwhile, 38 believe it should be optional.

Some districts are applying for waivers to open in August instead of September to try and get a head start if the virus continues to get worse. 

“They want to have more time flexibility in the school year to address broadband issues if they have to close down due to an outbreak and have additional days to adjust.”

A dozen districts so far have filed a waiver request with the Department of Public Instruction and Kaukl believes there will be more districts applying in the weeks ahead. 

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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