Wisconsin Unemployment Bill Would Let State Into Unemployed People's Bank Accounts

WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin Republicans want the state government to access some unemployed people's private bank accounts with the same power it uses to keep tabs on deadbeat dads.

A bill scheduled for state committee hearings next week would crack down on people who are delinquent in paying debts to the state's unemployment system. The proposal is part of a broader piece of unemployment legislation that would make the system stricter for workers and less burdensome for businesses.

State Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown), a co-author of the bill, did not immediately respond to an interview request through his office. He told the Wisconsin State Journal that the measure is designed "to protect the workers and lessen the burden on employers who are paying all the bills."

Under the legislation, at least once every three months the state's Department of Workforce Development would send financial institutions information on people who improperly received unemployment insurance. The information on such "unemployment debtors" would include "names, addresses, and social security numbers," according to the bill text. If the debtor has an account with the bank, then the institution would tell the state the account type, number, and balance.

Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, criticized the proposal.

“This troubling proposal raises serious privacy concerns for unemployed workers and exposes the system to other potential abuses that will undermine the basic trust of workers in the state’s UI program," Emsellem said.

Knodl's legislation notes that other state agencies, including the Department of Children and Families, use a similar scheme for collecting child support payments and determining eligibility for safety net programs. It would prohibit the Department of Workforce Development from sharing such information about people who aren't unemployment debtors.

The bill would also require unemployment claimants to give the state more proof they're searching for work and require the state to audit claimants' jobseeking efforts.

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