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Audit Cites Problems Leading to Unemployment Payment Delays

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development was responsible for 11 of the 13 weeks it took, on average, to process unemployment claims filed since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to an audit released Monday.

The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau report looked at a sample of nearly 270 people who had filed claims between March 15 and April 11 but who had not received payment as of June 20, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Workforce Development transition director Amy Pechacek said in a written response to the audit that the agency does not dispute that the pandemic and increased workload caused delays in processing claims.

“We do, however, find that the way the report portrays certain activities as delays or inactions based on a certain point in time may provide an incomplete representation of the activities involved in processing a claim,” she said.

In response to the latest audit, state Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos criticized Evers and his administration for not acting sooner to extend call center hours, transfer state employees or require DWD staff to work overtime to process the backlog of claims.

Vos and Assembly Republicans have proposed legislation that would require the department to eliminate the backlog within 30 days, further expand call center hours and include cutting state employee pay if they don’t resolve the issues.

Federal and State Government Resources

These resources are organized by 4 categories:

  • Federal and State Small Business Assistance Resources
  • Federal and State Taxes
  • Employment, Workforce, and Workplace
  • Miscellaneous

Federal and State Small Business Assistance Resources (updated 10/9)

Federal

SBA Paycheck Protection Program
https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program-ppp

SBA COVID-19 Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources
https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources

CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to COVID-19
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fspecific-groups%2Fguidance-business-response.html

State

Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation – “We’re All In” Small Business Grant Program
https://wedc.org/programs-and-resources/wai-small-business-grant/

Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation – Small Business 20/20 Program
https://wedc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Small-Business-2020.pdf

Wisconsin Small Business Center: COVID-19 How We Can Help Businesses
https://wisconsinsbdc.org/services/covid-19/

Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation – Strategies and Resources for Small Businesses to Navigate through COVID-19 in Wisconsin
https://wedc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/WEDC_Response-to-COVID_19.pdf


Federal and State Taxes

Federal

Internal Revenue Service – COVID-19 Tax Relief for Businesses

https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/coronavirus-tax-relief-for-businesses-and-tax-exempt-entities

State

Wisconsin Department of Revenue COVID-19 Information and Announcements

https://www.revenue.wi.gov/Pages/News/2020/wi-covid-19.aspx


Employment, Workforce and Workplace

Federal

Department of Labor: Families First Coronavirus Response Act Employer Paid Leave Requirements
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employer-paid-leave

Department of Labor: Families First Coronavirus Response Act FAQ
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-questions

Department of Labor: Families First Coronavirus Response Act Workplace Poster
https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/WHD/posters/FFCRA_Poster_WH1422_Non-Federal.pdf

Department of Labor: Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Workplace Poster FAQ
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-poster-questions

Department of Labor: COVID-19 and the Fair Labor Standards Act
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/pandemic

Department of Labor: Field Assistance Bulletin Temporary Non-Enforcement Period Applicable to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/field-assistance-bulletins/2020-1

EEOC: What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and COVID-19
https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws

OSHA: Guidance on Preparing Workplace for COVID-19
https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf

OSHA: Prevent Worker Exposure to COVID-19
https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3989.pdf

State

Department of Workforce Development: COVID-19 and Unemployment Insurance Benefits
https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/covid19/public/ui.htm

Department of Workforce Development: COVID-19 and Worker’s Compensation
https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/covid19/public/wc.htm

Department of Workforce Development: COVID-19 and Equal Rights
https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/covid19/public/er.htm


Miscellaneous

Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance – Guidance for Delivery Drivers During COVID-19 Crisis

https://oci.wi.gov/Documents/Regulation/Bulletin20200323COVID-19-CoverageforDeliveryDriversforRestaurants.pdf

Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions – Emergency Guidance on Remote Notarization

https://www.wdfi.org/Apostilles_Notary_Public_and_Trademarks/pdf/Remote%20notarization%20-%20webpage%20announcement.pdf

Mnuchin Seeks $250 Billion More in Small Business Aid, Senate Vote Planned for Thursday

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that, at the direction of President Donald Trump, he has spoken with congressional leaders to secure an additional $250 billion for the small business loan program as the coronavirus outbreak hammers the economy.

Mnuchin said he spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to secure the funding.

McConnell said earlier Tuesday he hopes to approve further funding Thursday to buoy small businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I will work with Secretary Mnuchin and Leader Schumer and hope to approve further funding for the Paycheck Protection Program by unanimous consent or voice vote during the next scheduled Senate session on Thursday,” he said in a statement.

Congress late last month approved a $350 billion small business loan program as part of a more than $2 trillion stimulus bill aimed at helping the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The program is aimed at helping small businesses that provide the engine of employment and entrepreneurship in the U.S. economy.

Justice Roggensack Re-elected as Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief

Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack has been re-elected to a third, two-year term leading the court.

The court announced her re-election by fellow justices Tuesday. The result was public, but the vote was done in secret and the breakdown was not announced.

Roggensack replaced Justice Shirley Abrahamson as chief justice in 2015 after voters approved a constitutional amendment giving justices the power to elect the chief justice. Prior to that it had automatically gone to the longest-serving member, who is Abrahamson.

Roggensack is one of the four majority conservative justices. Abrahamson is one of three minority liberal members.

Roggensack says in a statement that she is honored to continue serving as chief justice. She has been on the Supreme Court since 2003.

The chief justice also serves as the administrative head of Wisconsin’s judicial system.

Push for Internet via TV Airwaves Comes to Wisconsin, Despite Broadcaster Opposition

Broadcasters don’t like it, but a national push for TV airwaves to be used for internet expansion in rural areas is catching on in Wisconsin.

Lawmakers in the state Assembly approved a joint resolution encouraging federal regulators to enable broader use of so-called “white space” technology in under-connected areas on Thursday, weeks after Gov. Scott Walker released a similar statement.

Groups like the Wisconsin Technology Council, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance have also come out in support of white space broadband, joining a Microsoft-led coalition called Connect Americans Now that’s calling for Federal Communications Commission action on the issue.

The concept isn’t new: For years, there have been discussions of taking unused radio frequencies between TV channels to transmit internet data across the countryside, from towers to roof-mounted antennas in consumers’ homes. However, white space technology is still young, and has only recently emerged as a potential solution in rural broadband policy discussions.

Microsoft has long tinkered with white space technology, running pilot programs on its campus in Redmond, Washington, and in locations in Africa. Last year, it began talking about the technology more seriously: It released a white paper advocating for its use to expand broadband access in rural America. This January, it launched Connect Americans Now.

White space connections are currently capable of speeds of about 5 to 10 megabits per second, said Mitchell — “which many of us consider very slow,” he said. Those speeds would likely improve over time.

Zach Cikanek, a spokesperson for the coalition that visited Madison last week to promote the campaign at a Wisconsin Technology Council luncheon, said that he believes the excitement is already there. He asserted that what ISPs and manufacturers really need is some assurance from federal regulators that white space broadband can be a safe bet.

“The technology has reached a point where it’s ready to go,” said Cikanek. “The trick now is to have that regulatory certainty.”

The coalition specifically wants rules that would keep three channels in any given market open for unlicensed broadband use, instead of television use. The frequencies in question are ones below 700 megahertz, that are well-suited to traversing hilly or forested terrain.

Broadcasters say the FCC has already been reorganizing TV channels to free up white space for broadband use through “spectrum auctions.” Their argument is that Microsoft should have paid for a slice of the airwaves as part of that process.

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Ryan Pledges GOP will Pass ‘Very Ambitious’ Tax Reform Plan this Year

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, pledged to manufacturers that Congress and President Trump will “fix this nation’s tax code once and for all.”

Ryan, speaking at a National Association of Manufacturers event, laid out outlines of a “very ambitious plan” that House Republicans are working to put into legislation. And he said Republicans will “get this done in 2017” because the current tax code is hurting the U.S. economy and is too complex for families.

“This whole system is too confusing, and it’s just too darn expensive. We have got to stop this madness. Don’t you agree?” he said as the NAM 2017 Manufacturing Summit attendees applauded.

Ryan noted Trump introduced principles for tax reform that Congress is working off to develop a “transformational tax reform plan.” That work is already underway in the House GOP, Ryan said, sharing some elements of what Congress’ plan would look like.

Ryan said the plan would slim the number of tax brackets from seven into three and eliminate tax loopholes to cut the overall tax rates.

The plan would eliminate “harmful, burdensome taxes” for individuals, such as the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax, which Ryan called the “death tax.” It also would “clear out special interest carve-outs and excessive deductions,” Ryan said, though it would keep deductions for homeowners, charitable giving and retirement savings.

Ryan also said the plan would reform what’s become the “worst business tax system in the industrialized world.” Eight out of ten businesses, he said, file their taxes as individuals and pay a top marginal tax rate of 44.6 percent. The U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent, he added, is above the industrialized world average of 22.5 percent.

And the way the U.S. taxes corporations’ foreign income, he added, is pushing American companies to base their headquarters overseas.

“This is not the kind of exceptionalism we should aspire to,” he said.

Ryan called tax reform the “crown jewel” of the Republicans’ economic agenda, though he lauded the work Congress and Trump has done on reducing regulations. He also touted Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the Financial CHOICE Act passed by the House GOP that eliminates several Dodd-Frank provisions.

“Clean up the regulations, reform the tax code, there’s no stopping us,” Ryan said.

UI Trust Fund Projected to Exceed $1.2 Billion on Key Date

The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) recently released the 2017 Unemployment Insurance (U) Financial Outlook Report, which projects continued growth for the Wisconsin UI Trust Fund throughout the projection period. In addition to continued growth, the UI Trust Fund is predicted to have a balance of $1.2 billion or greater on June 30th, which would result in the third straight year that Wisconsin employers who participate in the UI program would experience a tax reduction. Due to the vastly improved Wisconsin economy and common-sense reforms made to the UI program, when combined with the reductions for the 2016 and 2017 tax years, tax schedule changes are estimated to reduce total UI taxes by over $150 million.

“Wisconsin’s UI Trust Fund has come a long way over the past six years, from a deficit of over $1 billion which brought over $360 million in additional costs to employers due to borrowing money from the federal government to a healthy UI Trust Fund balance of over $1 billion,” DWD Secretary Ray Allen said. “Wisconsin’s Trust Fund is continuing to grow, but we must ensure that we avoid the additional burden that borrowing money to pay benefits puts on the employers who fund UI benefit payments.”

The projections are included in the state’s 2017 UI Financial Outlook report, which DWD submitted on April 14 to the Governor and legislative leadership as required by statute.

Highlights of the report include:

  • Wisconsin’s UI Trust Fund ended 2016 with a positive balance of roughly $1.2 billion
  • UI benefits are expected to stay at historically low levels throughout the projection period, and the UI Trust Fund is expected to grow to over $1.5 billion by the end of 2019
  • Wisconsin’s UI Trust Fund balance is projected to be greater than $1.2 billion on June 30, which will move UI taxes to the lowest tax schedule, schedule D. This would result in a tax reduction for the third straight tax year for most Wisconsin employers covered under the UI program.

Other indicators of the health of Wisconsin’s UI program and overall economy include:

  • Initial UI claims ended 2016 at their lowest level since 1988. Year 2017 initial UI claims are running at their lowest levels in at least 30 years
  • Continuing UI claims ended 2016 at their lowest levels since 1973. Year 2017 Continuing UI claims in Wisconsin are running at their lowest level in at least 30 years.

14-State Coalition Defend Executive Order to Ease Over-Regulation

Attorney General Brad Schimel and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are leading a 14-state coalition urging a federal court to uphold an executive order aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on state governments and citizens.

“In recent years, bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. have been expanding their power and reach through regulatory actions, and little has been done to remove unnecessary federal regulations,” said Attorney General Schimel. “This executive order will protect Wisconsin from more years of the same, allow Wisconsinites to operate in a simplified regulatory environment, and protect our state’s sovereignty.”

The friend-of-the-court brief, filed late Monday, defends the “1-in-2-out” rule, which strives to eliminate unnecessary and costly regulation by requiring the federal bureaucracy to do away with two regulations for every new rule it creates. The coalition argues that the executive order effectively reins in a bureaucracy that has implemented a far greater regulatory burden than Congress ever envisioned.

The brief further contends past presidents, of both political parties, have enacted similar mechanisms to ensure review of regulations within the executive branch. Such measures have instructed agencies to consider the cumulative costs, the impact on the national economy and the effect of rules on state and local government.

Wisconsin and West Virginia filed the coalition’s brief before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Other states participating are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming.

President Trump to Sign 'Buy American, Hire American' Executive Order

President Trump will sign a double-barreled executive order Tuesday that will clamp down on guest worker visas and require agencies to buy more goods and services from U.S. companies and workers.

Trump will sign the so-called “Buy American, Hire American” executive order during a visit to Snap-On Tools in Kenosha, Wis., Tuesday, said two senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the order Monday.

By combining aspects of immigration policy with federal procurement regulations, Trump is using executive action to advance his philosophy of economic nationalism without waiting for action from Congress.  But like many of his previous executive orders, the order will largely call on cabinet secretaries to fill in the details with reports and recommendations about what the administration can legally do.

Specifically targeted: The H-1B visa program, which allows 85,000 foreign workers into the United States each year to take specific high-skilled jobs with U.S. companies. The program is popular with the information technology industry, which Trump has accused of “importing low-wage workers on H-1B visas to take jobs from young college-trained Americans.”

The “Buy American” portion of the order will tighten the waivers and exemptions that agencies use to get around procurement laws that favor American-made goods, and require agency heads to sign off on those waivers. It will require agencies to consider whether foreign governments are using unfair trade practices when considering the lowest responsible bidder. And it includes language requiring transportation projects to use steel “melted and poured” in the United States.

Finding More Markets for Wisconsin Dairy Products

With the U.S. saturated with milk and Wisconsin dairy farmers desperately seeking buyers, a new state-led dairy trade mission to Mexico announced Thursday comes at a critical time.

Ben Brancel, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, will lead a delegation of state officials and representatives from nine dairy and agricultural companies to Aguascalientes, Mexico, May 4-7 where they will attend Expo Leche, Mexico’s largest annual dairy industry conference. State officials say the goal is to strengthen Wisconsin’s relations with its existing dairy customers but also to find new opportunities for the state’s dairy businesses.

Brancel said the trade mission to Mexico was in planning long before the recent situation that was created when Grassland Dairy Products Inc. of Greenwood informed several dozen Wisconsin dairy farms it no longer would accept milk from them after May 1. Grassland lost its Canadian customers, who each day purchased more than 1 million pounds of ultra-filtered milk, a product with elevated protein content that’s typically used in cheese production, so Grassland had to reduce its milk intake.

With U.S.-Mexico relations strained from recent actions by the Trump administration over construction of a border wall and a pledge to reopen negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement, Brancel wants Mexico to know Wisconsin values its trade partnership. About $3 billion in Wisconsin exports went to Mexico in 2016, making it the state’s second-largest trading partner behind Canada.

“But we also are trying to identify new distributorships so we can market (Wisconsin dairy) products,” he said. A significant player and potential major customer could be the Domino’s Pizza operation in Mexico, Brancel said.

“We want to encourage them to use Wisconsin cheese on their pizza,” Brancel said. “Another aspect of this trip is to make sure our customers in Mexico are getting what they need, payments are coming to (Wisconsin) and products from Wisconsin are arriving in good quality with no problems.”

Brancel also has meetings scheduled with Mexico’s minister of agriculture and other government officials to discuss potential opportunities for Wisconsin dairy products. Wisconsin sends a lot of finished products to Mexico, including cheese, but there could be opportunities for whey protein and other milk products as well as ingredients used in food production, he said.

Mexico purchased about $247 million in dairy products from Wisconsin last year, according to state estimates.

 Mark Stephenson, director of dairy policy analysis at UW-Madison, believes Mexico could purchase more dairy products despite a strong U.S. dollar.

“One of the reasons we have to focus on Mexico is that they are one of our biggest trading partners,” Stephenson said. He said other dairy producing nations, including New Zealand, also may see opportunity in Mexico, but the U.S. has the advantage of proximity.

“The strong dollar, I’d categorize that more as headwinds and shouldn’t impact sales too much, but we may have to discount prices to make our products more competitive on the global market,” Stephenson said.