MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Unemployed people in Wisconsin would have to double the number of searches they make for a job from two to four a week, one of the toughest requirements in the country, under a proposal approved by the Legislature's budget committee on Monday.
The provision proposed by Gov. Scott Walker says anyone not performing the required jobs searches would lose their benefits. The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee approved it Monday, and the GOP-led Legislature would also have to vote for the change. If it becomes the law, Wisconsin would be one of only four states with job search requirements that high.
Only three other states require those collecting unemployment benefits to conduct four or more searches a week, according to a briefing paper by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. North and South Carolina both require four, and Florida requires a person either do five searches or contact a federal resource network for the unemployed.
Under the provision adopted Monday, four searches would be required but the state Department of Workforce Development could increase that amount through the rules process. That would not require passing a bill through the Legislature. Examples of allowable job search actions include filling out an application for a position, registering with a placement facility and responding to a classified ad for suitable work.
Democrats voted against the change, saying the move was designed to cut people off of unemployment insurance and save the state money. Republicans said their intent was to motivate people to actively look for work.
People can search, but that doesn't make jobs any easier to find, Democratic Rep. Cory Mason said. Mason represents Racine, which has the state's highest unemployment rate — 13.3 percent.
"I don't want us to fool ourselves into thinking that the reason people are on unemployment insurance is because they're not looking for a job," Mason said.
But Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said it wasn't unreasonable to require those collecting unemployment benefits to be looking for jobs four times a week instead of two.
"If you lost a job that's not coming back, I would hope we wouldn't even have to have a minimum requirement," Olsen said.
Increasing the number of job searches was recommended by a 10-member advisory council compromised of employers and unions that has historically recommended policy changes for the Legislature to consider related to unemployment insurance.
Walker included the recommendation in his budget, a departure from the normal practice where the council's proposals come before the Legislature in a separate bill.
Wisconsin is estimated to spend $856 million on unemployment benefits in 2013. It also still owes the federal government $1 billion for unemployment benefits because of the increase in claims during the recession.
The state turned to the federal government to help pay benefits when claims exceeded the state's reserves. Wisconsin has also increased payroll taxes on employers and restricted unemployment benefits to help pay off the debt.