Wisconsin GOP pushing law to spy on and seize bank accounts of unemployed

By David Ferguson
Saturday, June 1, 2013 12:10 EDT
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A law is advancing through the Wisconsin state legislature that would double the job-seeking requirements for people collecting unemployment and which would allow the government to peer into their bank accounts and freeze them if they believe the account holder has received overpayments in their benefits. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the co-authors of the bill, which was introduced in the state Assembly and Senate on Friday, insist that the changes would be for workers’ own good.

“This is to protect the workers and lessen the burden on employers who are paying all the bills,” said state Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown).

The bill also addresses the concerns of businesses which say that the state has not done enough to train judges on how to rule in disputes between companies and employees.

Democratic state Rep. Christine Sinicki (Milwaukee) said that the law is another salvo by Republicans against working people and the middle class. She also worried that Republicans would make the bill even more intrusive and draconian during the legislative mark-up process.

Knodl said the aim of the legislation is to move the state’s unemployment fund to solvency. Wisconsin is one of 31 states that had to borrow from the federal government to pay out unemployment benefits. At its highest point, Wisconsin’s debt to the federal government was nearly $1.5 billion, although in April of 2013, the amount was significantly less than that, $476 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Among the changes included in the Republican-backed legislation would slightly increase the maximum allowable benefit by $7 to $370 per week, it would render anyone cut off from receiving benefits for not taking a job ineligible to ever receive benefits again until they find a job that pays at least six times his or her benefit rate at the time of termination of benefits. The current requirement is four times their benefit rate.

It would force job applicants to apply for twice as many jobs to remain eligible for benefits. Currently employment seekers must apply for two jobs per week to keep unemployment benefits flowing. The new law raises that number to four.

Currently, people receiving educational or vocational training in order to qualify for a job can continue to receive unemployment benefits past their original expiration date. The new law would stop those payments.

The bill mandates that banks and financial institutions must hand over the private account information of any people suspected by the government of receiving overpayments.

In the event of overpayments, even those caused by government error or computer malfunctions, the government would be able to freeze and collect from the accounts of people receiving unemployment.

Assembly Bill 219 and Senate Bill 200 will go before legislative committees for consideration on Wednesday, June 5.

[image of hands reaching for piggy-bank via Shutterstock.com]

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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