Callahan bill would bar ‘able-bodied’ childless adults from declining job offers in order to maintain Medicaid eligibility

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Editor

MADISON – State Representative Calvin Callahan (R-Tomahawk) and several Legislative Republicans introduced a package of legislation that aims to “assist with the ongoing employment crisis throughout the state,” a release from Callahan’s office said.

The “Workforce Initiative Package,” introduced on Tuesday, Jan. 18, includes a bill authored by Callahan.

“The 35th Assembly District, like much of Wisconsin, is filled with small businesses holding up ‘Help Wanted’ signs in their windows,” Callahan stated in the release.

Callahan said that although there are “so many vacant jobs here at home and throughout the state,” there is also a “large number of able-bodied workers available,” and that in order to fill vacant jobs, “we have to remove the government-created barriers between them.”

Under Callahan’s proposal, any “able-bodied adult without dependents who is between the ages of 18 and 65, not determined to be physically or mentally unfit for employment, not pregnant or within six months postpartum, and not a caregiver of a child who is under the age of 13 or, if the child is disabled, under the age of 19” would be stripped of Medicaid benefits for declining job opportunities in order to maintain Medicaid eligibility.

“An able-bodied adult without dependents who commits the conduct prohibited by the bill is ineligible for Medical Assistance benefits for six months following the Department of Health Services discovering the violation,” the bill states.

“Medical Assistance, like all government welfare programs, was never intended to be a permanent health care source for able-bodied individuals without children who can work full-time jobs,” Callahan stated.

Callahan said he had “heard stories of individuals turning down job offers and raises, just so they can stay on Medical Assistance, even though the employer would be offering another health plan.”

“I hope to see this important proposal and the rest of the package move through the legislative process soon, and get more workers employed throughout the state,” Callahan said.

Other bills in legislation package

The GOP-backed bills focus on an array of workforce-related issues.

One piece of legislation would tie unemployment benefits to the state unemployment rate. Currently, unemployed individuals can collect benefits for up to 26 weeks. Under the legislation, the number of weeks an individual would qualify for benefits would decrease as the unemployment rate declines. The minimum time of eligibility would be 14 weeks.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), the state’s unemployment rate in was 2.8% in Dec. 2021. The total number of people who were counted as unemployed dropped to a record low of 86,200, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Another proposal would require the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) to implement a work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents to participate in the FoodShare program.

Changes to the DWD’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) program would be made under another bill. Those changes would include extending call center hours, implementing weekly eligibility crosschecks, requiring DWD to audit work searches, updating misconduct statutes, providing the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee oversight over enhanced federal benefits, and providing additional online resources to employers to connect with qualified workers, according to a release from State Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield)’s office.

A bill sponsored by State Senator Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) would address “’ghosting’ employers by skipping a job interview,” according to the release from Kapenga’s office.

Under the bill, if a UI claimant who is participating in a work search requirement schedule does not show up for a job interview, DWD would be “required to investigate and, if verified, deem the claimant ineligible for benefits that week.”

Governor Tony Evers did not immediately say whether or not he would support the bills.

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