Month: May 2021

A Key U.S. Inflation Gauge Rose 3.1% Year over Year

A key inflation indicator rose a faster-than-expected 3.1% in April as price pressures built in the rapidly expanding U.S. economy, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

The core personal consumption expenditures index was forecast to increase 2.9% after rising 1.9% in March. Federal Reserve officials consider the measure to be the best gauge for inflation, though they watch a number of metrics.

The index captures price movements across a variety of goods and services and is generally considered a wider-ranging measure for inflation as it captures changes in consumer behavior and has a broader scope than the Labor Department’s consumer price index. The CPI accelerated 4.2% in April.

That increase in inflation came with a sharp deceleration in personal income, which declined 13.1%. But that actually was less than the 14% estimate. Personal income had surged 20.9% in March following the latest round of government stimulus checks.


Unemployment Claims Fall to New Pandemic Low of 406,000

New applications for regular unemployment benefits fell in late May for the fourth week in a row as the U.S. economic recovery from the waning coronavirus pandemic induced companies to hire more workers.

Initial jobless claims sank 38,000 to 406,000 in the week ended May 22, the government said Thursday. That’s the fewest number of requests for compensation since the onset of the pandemic nearly 15 months ago.

New requests for compensation are down sharply from about 900,000 in early January. The number of new applications had been running in the low 200,000s before the viral outbreak last year, however.

Another 93,546 applications for jobless benefits were filed last week through a temporary federal relief program. These claims had peaked last year at well over 1 million a week but have now dwindled to a pandemic low.

The number of people already collecting state jobless benefits, meanwhile, fell by 96,000 to a seasonally adjusted 3.64 million in the week ended May 15. These are known as continuing claims.

Some 5.2 million people who have exhausted state compensation were also getting extra federal benefits. The federal program ends in September.

Altogether, the number of people reportedly receiving benefits from eight separate state and federal programs totaled 15.8 million as of May 8. These claims had topped 30 million early in the crisis.

Fewer than 2 million people were getting benefits before the pandemic erupted.

Wisconsin Republicans Reject Special Session on Medicaid Expansion

The Republican-controlled state Legislature took no action Tuesday during a special session called by Gov. Tony Evers to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin and accept $1 billion in additional federal funds.

Governor Evers called the special session last week and proposed a bill that would add Wisconsin to a list of 38 other states and Washington, D.C., that have expanded Medicaid since 2014, when it was first offered as part of the Affordable Care Act. The expansion would extend Medicaid health benefits to 91,000 additional people in Wisconsin by raising the income cap from 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $26,500 for a family of four, to 138 percent, or $36,570.

“I think we should be doing everything we can to make sure our economy bounces back from this pandemic, and this special session was about finding common ground and getting bipartisan support for our efforts,” Evers said in a prepared statement. “Clearly, it’s disappointing Republicans don’t seem to take that responsibility seriously, and they’ll have to explain to Wisconsinites why they made the decision they did today.”

Wisconsin Republicans have for years opposed the expansion, calling it an unnecessary increase in welfare and arguing it could saddle Wisconsin with additional costs in the future, if federal support were to decrease.

“Wisconsin provides quality, affordable coverage for all those who need it and expanding the program would simply lead to more people on a taxpayer funded government program and more expensive private plans for others,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said in a letter to the governor Tuesday. “Expanding Medicaid as you have proposed is unneeded and even reckless in a state that has no coverage gap and has an effective reinsurance program.”

Short-term Health Plans Could Last Longer in Wisconsin under Bill

Short-term health plans, which are typically cheaper than regular insurance because they don’t have to meet many requirements of the Affordable Care Act, could last up to three years in Wisconsin instead of 18 months under a bill to be debated Wednesday.

The measure would align the state with federal regulations approved in 2018 by former President Donald Trump’s administration and provide more flexibility to people needing transitional health coverage, said sponsor Sen. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield.

“There are individuals who find themselves between jobs or starting a business,” Kooyenga said. “For many of them, it’s Cadillac insurance versus no insurance. This offers a good compromise between those extremes.”

Critics say short-term plans can leave people unexpectedly facing large medical bills if they don’t realize the plans don’t have to cover “essential benefits” such as maternity care, mental health and prescription drugs. The plans also aren’t required to cover pre-existing conditions.

Short-term health plans can initially last up to a year, compared to three months during former President Barack Obama’s administration. Under the Trump rule, they can be extended for another 24 months, for a total of three years, if the insurer and consumer agree. In Wisconsin, the total period allowed is 18 months.

About a dozen companies sell short-term health plans in the state, said Sarah Smith, a spokesperson for the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.

Smith said no data was available on how many residents are enrolled in the plans, but a U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health report last year said Wisconsin was in the top 10 states in enrollment with about 100,000 people covered.


Application Period Open for $420 million in Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Recovery Grants

Applications for up to $420 million in new Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Recovery Grants for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic will open at 8 a.m. Monday, May 24 through 4:30 p.m. Monday, June 7, Governor Tony Evers announced today.

The Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Recovery Grants program is a collaboration between the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the Department of Revenue (DOR). The effort, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).

The grants will provide as many as 84,000 Wisconsin small businesses with annual gross revenue between $10,000 and $7 million with a flat award of $5,000.

The grants are part of Gov. Evers’ plan to use the $2.5 billion the state will receive under the ARPA, which includes $600 million in funds designated to supporting small businesses. The Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Recovery grants are included in that $600 million.

The new grants will target Wisconsin small businesses, including those that started in 2020, in sectors that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Individuals and businesses interested in learning more about the Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Recovery Grant program by visiting the main page of the Department of Revenue,


Governor Evers Revives Push to Expand Medicaid in Wisconsin

Governor Tony Evers revived his push to expand Medicaid on Wednesday, this time tying it to a plan that would spend $1 billion in federal incentives on projects throughout Wisconsin.

The proposal represented an attempt by the Democratic governor to recast the well-worn debate as about more than just expanding health coverage, framing it instead as a chance to capture a rare federal incentive payment to spend on dozens of projects, some of them in lawmakers’ backyards.

“We’re going to be utilizing it for projects all across the state,” Evers said at a Wednesday press conference in Middleton. “If the Republicans decide not to do this, they’ll be turning away projects in their own districts.”

But just hours after Evers introduced his plan, several of the Legislature’s top Republicans issued a written statement saying they opposed it.

“Our unique-to-Wisconsin solution is working, and we will not shift tens of thousands of people off their private insurance to a government-run system,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg.

Wisconsin is one of a dozen states that have decided not to expand Medicaid since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Wisconsin offers Medicaid, or BadgerCare, to people who earn up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level. Evers’ proposed budget would have expanded that to 138 percent, which would have covered an estimated 91,000 additional residents. BadgerCare currently covers about 1 million people in Wisconsin.

Republicans on the Legislature’s budget committee rejected the governor’s plan, just as they did two years ago after Evers proposed expanding Medicaid in his 2019 budget.

State Legislature Reinstates Work-Search Requirement for Unemployed Starting Sunday

The Legislature’s GOP-led rules committee voted Wednesday to eliminate the state’s emergency rule waiving work search requirements in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

The work search waiver first went into effect in March 2020 and was set to expire in July. Starting Sunday, unemployed people will again have to perform four work-search activities each week in order to obtain benefits.

“We need every able-bodied person to re-enter Wisconsin’s workforce to rebuild our economy,” committee co-chairman Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said in a statement following the vote, which was opposed by the committee’s Democratic members.

Committee member Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said the vote to reinstate work search requirements “is yet another example of Republicans abusing the rule-making process to make policy detrimental to their own constituents, and reveals what many who have been paying close attention have long known — Wisconsin Republicans want to make it as hard as possible for unemployed Wisconsinites to receive benefits.”

Wisconsin Republicans Want to End $300 Unemployment Bonus

Wisconsin Republicans want to end the $300-per-week federal unemployment supplement, which they said Tuesday hurts businesses that are struggling to fill vacancies as customers return amid a loosening of coronavirus restrictions.

The bill comes after the state chamber of commerce, more than a dozen trade groups, more than 50 local chambers of commerce and others called on Evers to return the state’s unemployment payments to pre-pandemic levels. Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Wisconsin’s five Republican members of Congress last week also asked Evers to rescind the $300 payment.

More than a dozen states with Republican governors have moved to eliminate the $300 payment. That payment is on top of Wisconsin’s weekly $370 unemployment benefit.

Ron Buholzer, one of the owners of Klondike Cheese Co. in Monroe, said he has 34 open positions now and has few applicants, despite raising starting salaries from $14 to $16 an hour.

“The help we have, they’re getting tired,” Buholzer said at a Capitol news conference. “They’re long days, long hours, when you’re short of people. … The only way we can fix that is more people.”

Under the bill, Wisconsin would no longer participate in four federal unemployment enhancement programs: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation.

The bill also prohibits the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development from waiving work-search requirements for any reason that is related to COVID-19. Republicans moved forward with separate plans to reinstate the work requirement, with a legislative committee planning to vote Wednesday to suspend the state rule waiving the work search requirements. That waiver is set to expire in July.

If the rule is put back in place, unemployed people will have to perform four work-search activities weekly to obtain benefits.


DATCP Waives Surcharge for Agricultural Chemical Cleanup Program Fund

For the fourth consecutive year, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is waiving the usual surcharge for the Agricultural Chemical Cleanup Program (ACCP). Fertilizer and pesticide businesses normally pay this surcharge when renewing their license, and the resulting fund helps pay to clean up agrichemical spills.

DATCP waives the surcharge when the fund balance remains above $1.5 million, allowing fertilizer dealers, commercial pesticide applicators, and pesticide manufacturers to pass these savings on to their customers.

The surcharge holiday will extend through June 2022 for fertilizer sales, and through the 2021-22 license year for other licensees. The surcharge is based on the level of the ACCP fund on May 1 of each year, when DATCP is required to review the program funds and decide whether to continue the surcharge holiday.

For more information about the ACCP fund and surcharges, visit

Tax Deadline is Monday, May 17, at Midnight

Wisconsin’s tax season was extended to May 17 this year due to COVID-19. To date, 2.85 million tax filers submitted returns out of an expected 3 million, and the average refund year to date is $793, up from $719 at this point last year.

Taxpayers can file an extension request with the IRS if they won’t make the May 17 deadline.

• Request an extension from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by May 17 to avoid late filing penalties.

• Go to the IRS website at and search “extension” for more information. Taxpayers who file an extension request with the IRS automatically receive an extension from the state.

• Keep a copy of the IRS federal extension application (Form 4868) for your records. Please keep in mind that even if you have an extension of time to file your return, you will owe interest on any tax not paid by May 17.

• Avoid interest charges during the extension period by paying any estimated amount owed by May 17, using a 2020 Wisconsin Estimated Tax Voucher.