Friday February 28, 2020

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Economic Growth Not Felt By Everyone

Posted by Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano has not set their biography yet
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on Tuesday, 04 February 2020
in Wisconsin

donald-trump-deficitBe careful when Trump uses the term “the economy”, it all depends who you are talking about and where they live, says northeastern Wisconsin resident.

SHAWANO, WI - “It’s the economy, stupid.” This now infamous phrase has been used to point out how a country is doing financially. Saying that “the economy” in the United States is booming is ignoring what is really going on.

Yes, the unemployment rate is at an historic low. However, that does not take into account the millions of laborers who are “underemployed”. Many are working part-time hours when they are in desperate need of full-time, salaried work. Also existing are a large number of Americans so depressed over their economic situation that they have not applied for a job in a year or longer.

Yes, it looks like the United States has most of its work force employed but since the crash of 2008 seventy-five percent of new jobs pay less than $50,000 a year. Wages might be rising slightly nationally but In Wisconsin a large percentage barely pay above the $7.25 minimum wage, which is one of the lowest in the nation.

Today millions of people fall under the degrading classification of “working poor”. In contrast, the top 1 percent of earners take home eighty-five percent of income.

The unemployment number means nothing. The stock market’s advances mean nothing either.

The richest 10 percent of Americans own 84 percent of stocks. The bottom half of households don’t own stocks. The daily rise and fall of Wall Street has no effect on most Americans. It won’t have very much influence on the waitress at the diner, the family farmer, or the home health care worker helping an elderly diabetic inject his insulin—a drug he could not afford if he were not on Medicare.

For most Americans “The economy” does not exist. What do all the economic forecasts mean for the 58 percent of who have less than $1000 in savings, or the 28 percent who have no savings at all? One misfortune could bring them to bankruptcy.

Whether “the economy” grows by 3 percent of 3.5 percent next quarter will have no relevance in the lives of those who are juggling thousands in credit-card debt and student-loan payments, along with the rising healthcare costs and the expenses of living.

There is no “economy” for most poor and work-class Americans. There is only everyday life. Because they don’t have adequate healthcare, they pray that their children don’t get sick. Unfortunately, paid family leave is not given to low-income wage earners. They pray their car doesn’t break down and they can’t get to work. Job security is fragile in low-income jobs. They pray their landlord does not raise the rent. It is difficult to find affordable housing for families.

When Donald Trump became president, the nation had a major economic recovery going on according to a new study at the Harvard Business School on U.S. competitiveness. Co-author Michael Porter said it could have given us the chance to take some significant resources and devote them to some of our well-known challenges, like infrastructure or health care. But very little of that happened.

The overwhelming majority of business leaders surveyed in the report said lobbying primarily advanced company interests, sometimes at the expense of the public interests. Those surveyed said businesses’ overall engagement worsened the political system by advancing policies that benefited special interests.

Even though candidate Trump promised to reduce the deficit, his 2017 tax cuts and increased government spending have increased the treasury’s deficit which is expected to grow to a trillion dollars this year.

Donald Trump’s massive tax cut only made the wealthy richer. It has proven to be nothing more than a handout for the largest corporations. Companies have given even bigger bonuses to their executives instead of increasing the number of good paying jobs and bringing back jobs which were shipped overseas.

trump-tariffsDue to President Trump’s trade war Wisconsin’s manufacturing sector is in a recession. Companies have had to slow their business growth, putting expansions on hold and laying off workers to ensure their businesses can survive. Some estimates show Trump’s trade war could result in Wisconsin losing 37,344 jobs. The tariffs have cost the state nearly a billion dollars.

Even though we just lived through a seemingly prosperous decade, the bulk of Americans don’t have enough money in their retirement accounts to retire on. Moreover, some people who retired and thought they would live on their fixed income have had to take a job because they found out their income wasn’t enough.

For Wisconsin’s growing elderly population there is a glimmer of hope. Governor Tony Evers has set up a Retirement Security Task Force. It’s not that Wisconsin’s workers don’t want to save, it’s that the have been living under economic conditions that have made saving either impossible or inaccessible. A recent AARP of Wisconsin study revealed that 1 in 7 registered voters have no way to save for retirement at work. The Governor and StateTreasurer Sarah Godlewski believe hard-working individuals deserve to have peace of mind and feel secure when they retire.

When the term “the economy” is being used, be cautious. Using it as a measure of success shows a clear absence of any long-term strategy which lies outside the next election cycle. Focusing on what is happening in people’s real lives makes for a more intelligent conversation. It could also make for a better country.

Jan Koch,

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It’s Time to Stand Up for our Agricultural and Rural Communities

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 31 January 2020
in Wisconsin

door-county-peopleState Senator says family farms are Wisconsin’s legacy and makes proposals to better address the real issues that our rural communities are facing.

West Point - The story is starting to become cliché. Wisconsinites overwhelmingly support a proposal that benefits our state, Republican leadership cries “partisanship”, and blocks action until an undetermined future date. We saw this happen with funding to combat homelessness, which still has seven pending proposals awaiting Republican action, and now we are watching this happen with Governor Evers’ call for a special session to help our agricultural and rural communities.

During the State of the State Address, Governor Evers announced that he will be prioritizing Wisconsin’s farmers, and called for a special session to take up proposals to help alleviate the strain on our rural communities. The special session was scheduled for Tuesday, and unfortunately, the day came and passed with no discussion, no debate, and no progress. In fact, Republicans chose instead to ignore our farm crisis and hold a partisan political rally of their own.

Democrats stand ready to take up a plethora of proposals, from passing the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports (WIDE) to providing grants to small dairy processing plants and increasing support for farmer mental health. Unfortunately, Republicans were nowhere to be found. For generations, farmers have served as the backbone for our state, and it is time that we step up and support our agricultural industries and rural communities.

Wisconsin unfortunately leads the nation in farm bankruptcies, with an average of 2 dairy farms closing per day. Whether it is effects of global warming wiping out crops, bad federal policies disrupting trade or slapping on unnecessary tariffs, or massive corporate farms shutting down their competition, each day these challenges stack up and get harder to address. These challenges are outside of the control of Wisconsin farmers, and it will take legislative action to keep our state alive.

jon-erpenbachThe truth is, agricultural diversity is one of Wisconsin’s greatest strengths. That’s one reason why it’s vital we do everything we can to maintain our smaller family farms. Agriculture contributes nearly $105 billion to our state’s economy and thousands of jobs. From vegetables, to cranberries to leading the nation in cheese production, our agricultural industry should not be taken for granted.

Thankfully, Governor Evers did more than call a special session, he also signed an Executive Order to create the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity. The commission is tasked with going out into our communities to listen to the issues that are affecting farmers, the agricultural industry and rural businesses. The commission will create recommendations based on the information they gather and report back to the Governor, so that we can better address the real issues that our rural communities are facing.

Additionally, the Governor announced his plan to work with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to establish the Office of Rural Prosperity. This action will help to ensure that our farmers, agriculture, and rural communities are a part of Wisconsin’s economic development strategy.

Wisconsin depends on our farmers, so this crisis is not their burden to carry alone. It is the food that comes to our tables, the farmer’s markets that bring people together, the businesses that depend on access to locally grown food, and the communities that keep our state afloat. Our farms are Wisconsin’s legacy. The least we can do is show up to the discussion.

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It’s Time to Prioritize Rural Prosperity

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 29 January 2020
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_farmSen. Smith writes about the SOS Address and the urgency of prioritizing rural prosperity. He shares information about Evers’ three-part plan to support our farmers and invest in our agricultural industries and rural communities.

MADISON - During the State of the State, Governor Tony Evers reflected on the accomplishments made in 2019 and the priorities we must carry out in the year ahead. As we draw closer to the end of this legislative session, we have a stronger sense of urgency to get things done.

Governor Evers showed exemplary leadership and his willingness to tackle the serious issues in our state during his State of the State Address. Along with his effort to create a Fair Maps Commission and Task Force on Student Debt, Evers announced a 3 part plan to address the visible challenges affecting our farmers and rural communities.

Finally, Wisconsin has a leader who values the dedication of our family farmers, recognizes Wisconsin’s role as America’s Dairyland and wants to learn from those who live and work in rural Wisconsin.

The Legislature is wrapping up session too soon. The Majority Party has neglected to hold public hearings or schedule votes on legislation that offer solutions to some of the most pressing issues in our state, including the dairy crisis. Wisconsin lost more than a third of dairy farms in the last decade, losing 800 in 2019 alone. At a time when local, family farms are disappearing rapidly and Wisconsin is leading the nation in farm bankruptcies, we need to take action.

During the State of the State, Evers called for a special session for the Legislature to take up 8 bills to support our farmers and invest in our agricultural industries and rural communities. I’m especially proud of the proposal to create a small farm diversity grant program to help new producers with initial start-up costs, a bill I introduced earlier this session with Rep. Vruwink (D – Milton).

  • In the agriculture special session bill package, Governor Evers also included proposals to:
  • Create the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports to help build Wisconsin’s presence in international dairy markets.
  • Offer more opportunity for dairy processors who want to innovate and become more efficient in their practice through the dairy processor grant program.
  • Expand the Farm Center to assist farmers in financial planning and farm succession.
  • Increase resources and partnership opportunities for farmers through UW Extension.
  • Provide additional mental health services and peer support programming for farmers.
  • Connect farmers to education and training assistance through new grant programs.
  • Promote producer-consumer relationships in local communities through the Farm-to-School program.

The announcement of the special session was not the only productive news Governor Evers shared during the State of the State. As the second part of his agricultural investment plan, Evers announced the creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity.

The Commission will be made up of members of Wisconsin’s rural communities and agricultural industries. Together, members will travel around the state learning about agricultural issues directly from key stakeholders. This experience will qualify them to advise the Governor and Legislature on critical agricultural and rural economic solutions we must make moving forward.

Under the third part of the agricultural investment plan, Governor Evers directed the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to create the Office of Rural Prosperity. This new division within the agency will focus on broadband expansion, accessible healthcare in our rural areas, housing availability and more.

The creation of WEDC initially overlooked the impact of our rural economy, a critical piece of the puzzle. Now we’re really going to be a major player in building the economy like we always knew we were capable of.

The day after the State of the State Address, I had the opportunity to sit down with community members and members of Governor Evers’ cabinet to discuss rural prosperity. I realized these are just the beginning steps toward prioritizing the issues that matter most to our economy and way of life in our rural areas.

Now we need leaders from the Majority Party to step up and prove they understand the urgency of our agricultural industry and farm families. This may be the greatest opportunity yet to demonstrate how shared governance can work. Let’s get to work!

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Fighting for America’s Dairyland

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling lives in La Crosse with her husband and two children. She curr
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on Friday, 24 January 2020
in Wisconsin

farm-familyWe need a meaningful and comprehensive approach to help our farmers and rural communities succeed.

MADISON - When you say ‘Wisconsin’ what is the first thing that comes to mind? For me, I think ‘America’s Dairyland.’ As Wisconsinites, that title is something we take deep pride in, knowing that our state produces the finest milk and cheese in the nation.

It isn’t surprising that Wisconsin produces more than 26 percent of the nation’s cheese and accounts for more than 14 percent of the nation’s milk productions. Between cheese, dairy and vegetables, agriculture contributes almost $105 billion to our state’s economy.

What’s easy to forget is the people whose sweat, hard work, perseverance, and dedication built the foundation of our state pride.

Despite this honorable farming heritage, Wisconsin has been losing dairy farms at an alarming rate – roughly two farms a day – and our state leads the nation in farm bankruptcies. We cannot abandon those generations of families that have dedicated their lives to feeding our families and communities.

jennifer-shillingOur local farm families are the backbone of communities across Wisconsin, but the federal trade war is making it impossible for many to stay afloat. Rather than closing markets and eliminating trade opportunities, we should be supporting our local farmers and helping them compete on a level playing field.

The time for action is now, and Governor Evers is seizing this moment by calling a special session for the legislature to address these challenges head on. The package of bills he announced in his State of the State address aim to do the following: create the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports to help build Wisconsin’s dairy brand in international markets, expand the Farm Center that currently provides no-cost services to farmers, increase staffing at UW Extension to ensure farmers have partners and resources closer to home, and help connect farmers and their produce to local universities, tech colleges, hospitals and businesses through a farm-to-fork program.

Additionally, the Governor wants to expand rural access to broadband services, improve access to affordable health care, and help rural communities harness the technologies, opportunities and jobs of the renewable energy economy.

This is a meaningful and comprehensive approach to help our farmers and rural communities succeed.

By promoting financial security and expanding economic opportunities, we can support Wisconsin’s family farmers and ensure everyone can enjoy healthy, affordable and locally-grown food options.

My Democratic colleagues and I remain committed to working with Gov. Evers to advance these bold solutions and improve the economic security and prosperity of Wisconsin rural communities.

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Healthcare: Surprise! It’s a Bill!

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 22 January 2020
in Wisconsin

affordablecareSurprise medical billing incidents occur often, and cause major problems for many of us who live within ordinary means. Sen. Smith hopes to establish a meaningful solution.

MADISON - Last week, Governor Tony Evers assigned homework for the Legislature to accomplish in the new year. Governor Evers urged bipartisan cooperation to tackle some of the most pressing issues in our state and create solutions Wisconsinites support to close the dark store loophole, lower insulin costs, protect our water, address homelessness and more.

In his letter, Governor Evers also highlighted an issue that happens far too often, but gets very little attention: surprise medical billing. With only a few more session days left for legislators to debate and vote on legislation, we must prioritize the issues impacting Wisconsinites across the state together to make our state better for all.

Surprise medical billing incidents occur more than you’d think. If you or someone you know hasn’t dealt with surprise medical bills, imagine this: you’re a patient scheduled for a necessary procedure. You know your doctor and the clinic or hospital is in your network, so you don’t think twice about it. Everything goes smoothly, you recover nicely and all is well. But then you get a bill months later, which may be thousands of dollars that you didn’t expect.

It doesn’t make sense because you have insurance and visited the same doctor and clinic you’ve been to in the past. After calling to get answers, you’re told the anesthesiologist was out-of-network and their insurance doesn’t cover that portion of the procedure.

Surprise medical billing causes major problems for people like us who live within ordinary means. Suddenly a family is facing extreme financial stress while considering how to pay for expensive unplanned medical bills.

In fact, something similar happened to me many years ago. When my children were young, I made a skate rink for them in front of our house. One day, I slipped while spraying the last layer of ice. One leg bent unnaturally and caused excruciating pain. After crawling to the house and hoping to recover on my own, I visited my doctor. The doctor insisted I needed an MRI to find out what happened to my knee. Since the machine at my usual clinic was unavailable, I was referred to another clinic for the exam.

Months later, after I had the MRI, I received a shocking bill and learned I would have to pay out-of-pocket because I was sent to another clinic.

jeff-smithI know, personally, the impact of surprise billing and how devastating it can be. When you’re facing an already stressful health emergency, you shouldn’t be expected to worry if a physician is covered by your insurance or any other hidden costs are involved in your care. All a person wants when sick or in pain is to get the help they need and feel better again – paying an expensive medical bill makes it extremely difficult for an individual to recover quickly and comfortably.

Surprise medical billing affects many of us. Policymakers on the state and federal level have been working in search of solutions to prevent these practices. Throughout this session, I’ve worked with Representative Debra Kolste (D – Janesville) and Senator Luther Olsen (R – Ripon) to find a solution for Wisconsinites to relieve the stress and financial burden associated with surprise billing.

We’ve consulted with many stakeholders, including non-partisan policy experts, advocacy groups and graduate students at the UW School of Law and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health to establish a meaningful solution to protect patients from surprise bills. We need to be sure we get this right.

Today, Governor Evers delivers the State of the State address when he will announce the top priorities for 2020 and the remainder of this session. While I listen to his speech, I’ll reflect on all of the constructive policy work we’ve carried out this session and keep considering ways I can work with my colleagues to push substantial healthcare policy proposals forward.

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