MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers signaled Tuesday he won’t block in-person school this fall and cast doubt on a Republican proposal to give loans to people who have waited months for unemployment benefits.
“I believe that we can open schools and so I’m not in any position to say we’re going to or we’re not going to. I’m not going to order them closed,” the Democratic governor told reporters in a conference call. “I’m still optimistic that they can open and there’s lots of options.”
He stressed the need for people to limit their contact with others and wear face masks in public to mitigate a surge of recent coronavirus cases.
“If people really want those schools to be open, we all need to pay attention to it, pay attention to our own health, and then I think it will be much easier for them to open safely,” he said.
Evers said he would be inclined to advise schools to close only if “things were completely out of control,” and he raised questions about whether he has the power to shut them down on his own.
Because the court explicitly said its ruling did not address schools, some have argued Evers has the ability to close them down if he wants. But Evers appears wary of that argument because of the possibility of a future court ruling on the issue.
The court’s ruling against Evers on the stay-at-home order was 4-3. One of the justices who ruled against Evers, conservative Daniel Kelly, will be replaced next month by liberal Jill Karofsky, who beat him in an April election.
Evers said parents should plan to have their children in school this fall but added the decisions would be made by local officials.
He spoke positively of Milwaukee Public Schools’ plan to start the fall with virtual classes and an eventual return to classrooms. But he noted other districts will take a different approach.
“It’s going to look different in different parts of the state,” Evers said.
Loans for unemployment beneficiaries
Also Tuesday, Evers signaled he wouldn’t adopt a proposal by Assembly Republicans to have the state provide loans to those who are waiting to find out if they’re eligible for unemployment benefits. They floated the idea last week as a way to help thousands of people who have waited weeks to get benefits.
Under their plan, the state would use $40 million or more in federal aid to make loans to those who have waited for weeks for benefits.
Those who ultimately qualify for benefits would have to use their unemployment payments to pay back the loans. Those who do not qualify for benefits would have to find other ways to pay back their loans.
Evers questioned whether creating a new program would get people in need help any faster. He noted the state could have trouble recovering money from those who don’t qualify for benefits.
“I view it as somewhat of a political stunt,” Evers said of the Republican proposal.
“It is risky just to send money out with no understanding of the adjudication process that (the state Department of Workforce Development) does.”
Republican Rep. John Nygren of Marinette, the co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, bristled at the idea that the Republican proposal was a political stunt.
“Thousands of Wisconsinites need help now,” Nygren said to Evers in a tweet. “Why are you continuing to turn your back on them?”
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.