Monday October 19, 2020

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The Wisconsin COVID-19 Response Bill

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 22 April 2020
in Wisconsin

unemploymentSen. Smith writes about the COVID-19 Response Bill signed last week and explains what steps we still must take to further help Wisconsin.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - The COVID-19 public health emergency has forced us to quickly adapt and adjust our daily routines for this unprecedented time. Like so many families in rural Wisconsin, my bandwidth isn’t capable of allowing me to always work from home. So, last week from a small room on the UW-Eau Claire campus, I joined my senate colleagues through my computer screen for a virtual Senate Floor Session.

During Senate Session, I voted in support of the COVID-19 Response bill, a legislative package to support Wisconsin during this challenging time. Immediately after passing this bill, Governor Tony Evers signed the bipartisan bill into law. I’m proud to have voted for this bill; however, I know there’s more work to do to support Wisconsin families, businesses, farmers and medical professionals.

There are a number of measures included in the bill to help Wisconsin residents. The COVID-19 Response bill:

  • Suspends the one-week waiting period for a claimant to receive unemployment insurance benefits, which leverages an additional $9 million from the federal government for Wisconsin workers.
  • Makes changes to the state’s Medicaid regulations so that Wisconsin could be eligible for additional Medicaid funding, amounting to approximately $150 million for the first quarter of the year.
  • Allows Wisconsin Retirement System participants to be re-hired for critical positions during the public health emergency while receiving their annuity.
  • Allows pharmacists to extend certain prescriptions up to a 30-day supply during the pandemic.
  • Requires insurance plans to cover the costs of COVID-19 testing.
  • Prohibits an insurer or self-insured health plan from denying or cancelling health coverage based on a current, past or suspected diagnoses of COVID-19.
  • Prevents surprise medical billing during public health emergencies.

These are important measures. However, there were key parts from Governor Evers’ proposal that were missing from the legislative proposal, introduced by Republicans, that would do more to help Wisconsinites impacted by COVID-19. The Legislature must meet again and vote to:

  • Provide hazard pay or workers compensation for ALL frontline and critical workers who are risking their lives going to work every day.
  • Provide additional support for local governments that are currently on the frontline working with their communities to address their unique situation in this pandemic.
  • Further invest in Wisconsin’ small businesses and farmers who are struggling to make ends meet.
  • Offer additional resources for public health officials and enhance the ability of state and local public health officials in their effort to flatten the curve.
  • Make telehealth more available to patients with disrupted care.
  • Support hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities that are working hard to increase the capacity of our healthcare system.
  • Provide relief for families in need of assistance with basic needs like food security or emergency assistance with housing or utility payments.

During Senate Session, I joined my Democratic colleagues in introducing three amendments to fill gaps where the legislative proposal fell short. One amendment would have included the aforementioned relief proposals to provide greater support to front-line workers, business owners, public health professionals and Wisconsin families. The other amendments would move future elections to a mail-in process, ensure Wisconsin residents can vote safely in future elections, and extend relief efforts to any future declared public emergencies. Ultimately, Republicans rejected all three amendments; therefore they weren’t included in the bill signed into law by Governor Evers.

jeff-smithLast week, Governor Evers also extended the “Safer at Home” plan. This is a challenging time for us all, but the easing of restrictions indicates that it is working and we are moving in the right direction. Getting the economy working again is our focus, but COVID-19 is far too contagious to just lift the Safer at Home Order – we must do it gradually to limit the strain on our economy and health care system.

I want to thank the front-line workers, medical professionals and all the people helping our communities during this crisis. Thank you for doing your part by staying home. Our work is not done, not by a long shot. The “Safer at Home” plan is working to keep more Wisconsinites safe. As long as we follow social distancing practices, we’re doing what we can to save lives. Keep it up.

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Wisconsin’s Response to Coronavirus

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 15 April 2020
in Wisconsin

tony-evers-talks-2uSince declaring a public health emergency for the state, Governor Tony Evers has introduced two COVID-19 relief packages and issued numerous emergency orders to slow the spread of COVID-19.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - As we near the end of a month while under the COVID-19 public health emergency, I thought of the steps Governor Tony Evers has taken to keep Wisconsinites safe. Keeping in mind how much pressure the Governor has been under both personally and politically, it seems we ought to commend him for his steadfast leadership and resolve. Governor Evers understands the serious responsibility in issuing the “Safer at Home” order – he understands these measures will protect Wisconsinites, but they’re not helping win friends or votes. These difficult decisions must be made knowing that.

So let’s walk through some steps Governor Evers has taken so far.

March 12 – Governor Evers declared a public health emergency in Wisconsin. As a result, he issued 23 emergency orders, which are intended to streamline responses from state agencies during the public health emergency to help Wisconsinites.

March 21 – Governor Evers shared a COVID-19 policy package with legislative leaders to provide immediate and long-term relief to Wisconsin residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal includes measures to support local public health agencies; expand telehealth coverage; prohibit surprise medical billing and cover the cost of testing and treatment related to COVID-19; reform election laws; repeal the one week waiting period to receive Unemployment benefits; help essential workers cover childcare costs; and more.

coronavirus-ppeMarch 21 – On behalf of Governor Evers’ request, the Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for additional personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gowns, gloves and face shields. On March 31, Wisconsin received PPE from the Strategic National Stockpile for healthcare workers.

March 26 – Governor Evers launched the PPE Buy-back Program to encourage businesses and organizations to sell PPE to the state in a continued effort to collect more supplies for healthcare workers.

March 24 – Governor Evers issued the “Safer at Home” order in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

March 30 – Governor Evers announced a new public-private partnership with Wisconsin businesses to increase COVID-19 testing capacity in the state.

March 31 – Governor Evers requested a major disaster declaration for Wisconsin. This would help all 72 counties and the state’s federally recognized tribes receive additional resources in response to COVID-19, including Direct and Public Assistance, Hazard Mitigation, Crisis Counseling, Community Disaster Loans and Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Program. Wisconsin was later granted this federal disaster declaration on April 4.

April 1 – Governor Evers introduced a second legislative package. This proposal included additional measures for Wisconsin residents during this difficult time, such as support for small businesses and workers; aid for emergency food banks; broadband expansion efforts; vaccination coverage to SeniorCare members; utility assistance for families; and more.

April 3 – Governor Evers signed Executive Order #73, calling for a special session to take up changes to the spring election to be held on Saturday, April 4. The next day, Republican leaders gaveled in and out within minutes, rejecting changes be made to protect voters and election workers.

April 6 – One day before the spring election, Governor Evers signed Executive Order #74 to suspend in-person voting for the April 7th Election until June 2020. He called on the Legislature to meet in Special Session to address the election date; however, Republican leaders chose not to meet. Later that day, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled the April 7 election to go on, as planned, against the guidance of health experts.

jeff-smithTake note of what is missing throughout this process: any action from the Republican-led Legislature. Republicans still haven’t taken action on Governor Evers’ COVID-19 relief proposals, introduced more than 3 weeks ago. While Republican leaders have marked Governor Evers as the “bad cop” they’ve sat on their hands throughout the first month, doing nothing to help Wisconsin during this crisis. Ironic, since they went to so much trouble to take power out of the Governor’s hands during the 2018 Lame Duck Session so they could be the decision makers.

So far the Republican leaders only know how to stand in the way and criticize Governor Evers’ swift response. That is not leadership. I hope by the time you read this, Republicans will have finally joined Governor Evers in making Wisconsin safer.

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Pandemic Paycheck Protection

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 08 April 2020
in Wisconsin

small-business-owners-mfSen. Smith writes about state and federal government resources available to support small business owners and Wisconsin workers during this public health crisis and includes links to them and additional information on COVID-19 relief for readers.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - During this unprecedented public health emergency, we have a lot to think about. While keeping ourselves and our loved ones healthy, we’re also thinking of ways to maintain our livelihoods and pay the bills. On March 27th, the federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide immediate and long-term relief for Americans. At the state level, Governor Evers’ administration is working to ensure every household is able to overcome the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The CARES Act includes $2 trillion in funding, which will be allocated to American taxpayers, public health programming, state and local governments, and other areas to provide economic relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, the CARES Act directs approximately $377 billion to support small business owners.

There’s a lot to learn about the CARES Act and the programs available to support American workers and business owners during this challenging time.

One of the most well-known pieces of the CARES Act includes direct payments back to taxpayers. Most individuals with a gross income of up to $75,000 will receive $1,200. The direct payment amount is reduced for individuals making more than $75,000. The Internal Revenue Service announced that these direct payments will begin in the next couple of weeks and will be distributed automatically, for most people.

The CARES Act also expands Unemployment benefits, known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to provide additional relief to individuals. According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), PUE will likely help many people, including people who typically don't qualify for unemployment benefits or self-employed people. This program may provide an additional $600 per week to individuals receiving unemployment benefits.

The CARES Act includes several relief measures administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) that will have a major impact on small businesses.

electrical-workersFirst, the Paycheck Protection Program is a loan for small businesses with less than 500 employees, to encourage employers to retain their workforce and apply the loan towards payroll, rent, mortgage or utilities. The application period for small businesses and sole proprietors began April 3rd; independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply beginning April 10th. There are funding caps, so don’t hesitate – apply quickly.

Second, the SBA oversees the Small Business Debt Relief Program, another tool available to provide further financial assistance for small businesses.

Third, the SBA manages the Economic Injury Disaster Loans Program (EIDL), which can provide small businesses loans of up to $2 million “to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing, according to the SBA.

These are all great programs administered by the federal government; but, the state also has a role to play to support small businesses and Wisconsin’s workforce. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) established the Small Business 20/20 Program to award grants to businesses up to $20 thousand through community development financial institutions.

For more information on the aforementioned small business resources, please visit the SBA website at SBA.gov and the WEDC website at WEDC.org.

During this crisis, there’s more we must do. Governor Evers is limited in what he can do, alone – the legislature must do its part to help. Governor Evers has asked the legislature to act on a number of measures to support families, including the proposal to remove the one week waiting period for individuals to receive Unemployment Insurance benefits.

jeff-smithThere’s been an unprecedented number of unemployment claims in the past couple of weeks. Just last week, there were 1.5 million calls into the DWD – this represents a 6,000% increase in typical call volume. This shows that Wisconsinites are reaching out for support; therefore, we must pass legislation to repeal the one week waiting period to ensure everyone is covered immediately.

If you need to apply for Unemployment benefits or require assistance, please visit DWD.wisconsin.gov.

I hope, that when you read this the legislature has already repealed the one week waiting period. If not, call your legislator, and ask your friends and family to do the same, and tell Republican leaders to do the right thing for Wisconsinites. This is an all hands on deck situation – we need everyone to step up to support Wisconsin families.

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Stay Safer at Home

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 01 April 2020
in Wisconsin

work-from-homeSen. Smith writes about public health measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, including the 'Safer at Home' order, and outlines other steps being taken by Governor Evers to address the short-term and long-term impacts of COVID-19.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Every day, as we learn more about COVID-19 and adjust to the disruptions in our daily routine, we’re being tested on how we, as a community, step up to a challenge and work toward a solution. Throughout the state, people are coming together to help others. I’ve heard so many of my friends ask, “What can I do to help?”

The best way to help right now is by staying home. We all have a role to play to slow the spread of COVID-19. Our collective efforts will only make our communities safer and more resilient. As a state, we’ll get through this public health crisis by staying safer at home.

Since Governor Tony Evers declared a public health emergency in Wisconsin on March 13th, his administration has implemented 16 emergency orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while responding to repercussions of the public health crisis. On March 24th, Governor Evers issued the “Safer at Home” order, directing Wisconsinites to stay at home as much as possible, in order to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 virus can spread between people who are in close contact to one another or through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes and another person in close proximity inhales, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As stated by the World Health Organization, most individuals infected with COVID-19 experience symptoms similar to the common cold; however COVID-19 can cause severe respiratory illness and may lead to death, especially for older adults or individuals with underlying health conditions.

jeff-smithProtective public health measures and policies, like the “Safer at Home” order are imperative to slow the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, these preventative measures are in place to ensure healthcare providers have the capacity to care for the number of individuals infected with COVID-19 and others that are in-need of emergency medical care.

After having conversations with public health experts, business leaders and local elected officials, Governor Evers understood it was in the state’s best interest to implement the “Safer at Home” order.  The “Safer at Home” order requires individuals to stay home, with limited exceptions, and requires non-essential businesses and operations to cease while the order is effective from March 25th to April 24th. The order is enforceable by local law enforcement and county sheriffs.

The “Safer at Home” order clarifies which businesses and operations are deemed essential, which includes, but is not limited to, farming and agricultural production, food banks and shelters, grocery stores and pharmacies, and manufactory industries. The “Safer at Home” order also provides mandatory guidelines on all forms of travel to further reduce the risk of COVID-19 community spread.

The Department of Health Services encourages Wisconsinites to get fresh air and exercise to stay healthy physically and mentally. You can still go out to walk your dog, visit a state park or go for a bike ride, but you should still maintain social distancing of six feet between others in public. Remember to continue following other public health practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by regularly washing hands with soap and water, covering coughs and sneezes, and cleaning high-touch surfaces.

The other emergency orders issued by Governor Evers are intended to address other consequences stemming from COVID-19. During the public health emergency, the orders will help expedite food delivery to grocery stores; extend unemployment insurance eligibility and remove the work search requirement; halt admissions to state prisons and juvenile facilities; suspend utility disconnections and waive late fees; and ban evictions and foreclosures.

Most recently, on Saturday March 28th, Governor Evers introduced a comprehensive legislative proposal to alleviate short-term and long-term challenges connected to COVID-19. I’m hopeful that all of my legislative colleagues can get behind these common-sense initiatives to protect our healthcare workers, help citizens practice their civic duty to vote, support Wisconsin workers and assist our local governments during this pandemic.

Every day, there are new updates about COVID-19. Be sure to stay up-to-date on ways to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy and learn about available resources by visiting: govstatus.egov.com/wi-covid-19.

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Senator Jeff Smith Says Take COVID-19 Seriously

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 25 March 2020
in Wisconsin

door-county-peopleSenator writes about ways we can slow the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing, self-isolation and other precautionary measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - We must take COVID-19 seriously. On March 13th, showing tremendous leadership, Governor Evers declared a public health emergency in Wisconsin and has since strengthened precautions. Now it’s our turn to do our part by following the guidance from leaders and medical professionals to slow the spread of COVID-19. Undoubtedly, this is a challenging time for us all as we learn to navigate the changes in our daily routine impacted by this global pandemic. It’s our responsibility as neighbors to keep our communities healthy and safe for all.

We have learned so much since we first heard about coronavirus and this particular strain, known as COVID-19. Seven other coronavirus strains exist, including one which leads to the common cold. Some skeptics use this fact as reason to scoff at the precautions taken to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, COVID-19 is a new strain and there’s still a lot scientists are trying to learn about it. To say that COVID-19 is no more than “a cold on steroids” is like saying a tiger is no more than an overgrown house cat. Yes, they are members of the same species but one is dangerous and vicious while the other is mild and tame.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), the COVID-19 virus is found in droplets from the throat and nose and can be spread when someone coughs or sneezes. DHS also reports that the virus can also spread when someone touches an object with the virus on it; if that person touches their mouth, face, or eyes the virus can make them sick. There are a range of symptoms associated with a COVID-19 infection, but symptoms can include fever, cough or shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). COVID-19 can cause severe respiratory illnesses, pneumonia and death.

In recent weeks, Wisconsin has seen community spread of COVID-19, which means there are people who have tested positive who have no exposure to a known case nor did they travel to a location where there is community spread. Now it’s even more important, while scientists and medical professionals research and provide care, that we all do our part to slow the spread.

jeff-smithI have to admit that in the past, I haven’t taken the strongest precautions for my own health, like I should. Then I realized that the public health precautions against COVID-19 are not only carried out to protect my personal well-being, but also to protect the health and safety of my loved ones. I’m self-isolating at my home to reduce the risk of community spread to vulnerable populations, like my 95-year-old father or others with compromised immune systems.

Sacrifices need to be made. We all need to follow CDC recommendations and practice social distancing and self-isolation. The CDC also recommends these practices to keep us and others around us healthy: wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; stay home when you’re sick; avoid touching your face; cover your cough or sneeze; and clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

It’s times like this when the greater good of society is more important than going on with business as usual. Although it hurts that schools, restaurants and bars are shut down while social gatherings are limited to 10 people and we practice social distancing, it is a temporary pain that will slow the spread of COVID-19. We are taking these precautions now to prevent a spike in cases, which would overwhelm our healthcare system. Together, we must practice these measures to protect our family and community and support our hardworking healthcare professionals.

Wisconsin is taking COVID-19 very seriously and we all need to take necessary precautions to keep everyone safe. My next column will have more information about the measures being taken by the Legislature to slow the spread and support families affected by COVID-19.

Every day, there are new updates about COVID-19. Be sure to stay up-to-date on ways to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy and learn about ways to cope during this pandemic by visiting: govstatus.egov.com/wi-covid-19.

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