Tuesday October 19, 2021

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A Workforce for Everyone

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, 21 July 2021
in Wisconsin

working-poor-hurtsSen. Smith shares his personal story as a small business owner and describes Governor Evers' continued efforts to strengthen Wisconsin's workforce in our post-pandemic recovery.

EAU CLAIRE - Long before I entered politics, I worked in the private sector. From an early age, I was needed for my father's business to mop floors, empty trash and eventually clean windows. As high school graduation approached, my father sat down with me and laid out why he wanted me to forgo college and continue working with him, hoping someday I'd buy the business from him. Thus, my future, as owner and manager of Bob Smith Window Cleaning, was set.

Things went pretty well as I put in long hours and hired reliable help. When I first started it was only myself and my father, and he had no interest in growing the business. Hiring and managing employees was a risky undertaking for my father. I would learn what he meant as time went on.

It's a huge responsibility when a small business hires anyone. There are insurance costs and payroll expenses. Each employee I hired was representing me when I couldn't personally be at each worksite, so it was necessary to build trust. But as time went by and business grew, it became more and more difficult to have a working relationship with each employee the way I would've liked. It became evident that entry-level pay needed to be worth it for anyone to want to work in the service industry where their work may go unappreciated. Over twenty years ago I began paying $10 an hour to attract good help. Ten years ago, after a long career in the service industry, I sold my business.

I tell you all this for perspective as we hear from so many employers that they can't seem to find enough workers. Recently, I heard a Republican colleague tell an audience that they noticed a "help wanted" sign at a gas station offering $10 an hour. This anecdote came up while my colleague was arguing against pandemic unemployment benefits. My colleague shared this story as though $10 was a great wage and people should flock to apply. Keep in mind $10 an hour doesn't cover an average month's rent along with basic living necessities for most families.

working-womanIt isn't a new phenomenon that finding help in the service industry is difficult, and it seems to only have gotten harder. Low wages are one but not the only reason “ we find ourselves facing a workforce shortage. We know the lack of affordable child care, forced many parents“ especially women “ to leave the workforce during the pandemic to care for their children. Other barriers including broadband access, reliable transportation options, and affordable housing have only compounded the issue at hand.

Some employers and politicians have been quick to blame the unemployment insurance system workers have paid into for the labor shortage. The fact is there are not enough workers for our growing economy thanks to Governor Evers and President Biden. Workers fled Wisconsin over the past ten years because Wisconsin was one of the slowest states to recover from the Great Recession and Republicans passed anti-worker legislation at every turn. Now they wonder where all the workers are.

Wisconsin is back to pre-pandemic unemployment levels as our economy continues to improve. The recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment estimates for June showed that Wisconsin added 10,700 new jobs.

jeff-smithAlthough Wisconsin's unemployment rate is lower than the national average, Governor Evers remains focused on building our workforce back stronger than it was before the pandemic. Last week, Governor Evers directed $130 million toward workforce development. Together, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation are developing a workforce innovation grant program. DWD will be partnering with local workforce development boards on a worker advancement initiative. The agency will also roll out a worker connection program that will provide workforce career coaches for Wisconsinites.

I'm hopeful that Governor Evers' initiative will continue strengthening Wisconsin's workforce. More still needs to be done in our pandemic recovery. Do your part by getting vaccinated and encouraging your loved ones to do the same. We've come a long way since the pandemic first came to Wisconsin and there's nowhere else to go, but forward.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - The threat of authoritarianism

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Friday, 16 July 2021
in Wisconsin

trump-whMADISON - I went to Plover this Saturday to give a talk on the grave risk of authoritarianism that we’re facing, and I wanted to share it with you:

Overcoming Authoritarianism

A few days later, I heard Joe Biden give a tremendous speech on the same subject, and I wrote about that here:

Joe Biden’s Great Speech

matt-rothschildI must have been in the mood for praising this week because I also hailed Gov. Evers for vetoing that horrible GOP bill on local redistricting. Here’s what I wrote:

Evers Thankfully Vetoes Delay in Local Redistricting

I hope you like this week’s offerings, and have a nice weekend!


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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P.S. Please support our urgent work with a tax-deductible donation. Just click here!

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The Budget is Just the Beginning

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, 14 July 2021
in Wisconsin

art-fair-on-square-Sen. Jeff Smith provides an overview of the budget process and what was included in the 2021-23 budget signed by Governor Evers last week.

MADISON - Like many households and businesses, the state operates on a budget. We have a biennial budget in Wisconsin, meaning it begins July 1st of each odd numbered year and ends June 30th of the following odd numbered year.

The budget supports much of what many families and individuals count on in their everyday lives. It will determine the conditions of your local roads, and whether your school district can afford to hire staff, repair a roof, or upgrade their computers. The budget supports our local governments with human services, law enforcement and fire protection. If a state budget isn’t approved in a timely fashion, a domino effect occurs delaying budgets for all Wisconsin counties, municipalities and school districts.

You can think of the budget as one big bill. Unlike most other legislation, the governor introduces the budget bill, the Legislature changes it and the governor signs it into law. In the spring, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) held public hearings around the state to hear residents’ thoughts on the budget. I listened in on these hearings and saw Wisconsinites testify one after another in support of Governor Evers’ budget to help Wisconsin bounce back from the pandemic.

The JFC then voted on the budget. Despite Wisconsinites’ support for many of the budget provisions, the Committee’s Republican Majority gutted 380 proposals including BadgerCare expansion and critical investments in our K-12 schools.

Whenever any other bill reaches a full vote of the Assembly and Senate, it will receive up or down votes based on the merits of a single proposal and it’s pretty easy to determine one’s stance on it. That’s not always so easy with the budget. There’s so much included in the budget bill, which makes it highly unlikely that anyone can be completely happy with every proposal and expenditure. I’m certainly never completely satisfied.

That’s exactly how I felt when the Senate passed the budget on June 30th. The budget was a missed opportunity in many ways and didn’t go nearly as far as we could with the surplus we have. But with so many Wisconsinites still recovering from the pandemic, I knew families needed relief, even if it wasn’t how I would do it.

The bulk of the budget will help middle class families with historic tax breaks and additional education funding. The budget strengthens our caregiver workforce and supports hospitals that serve a large number of Medicaid and uninsured individuals. Counties and municipalities will get the road funding they need.

It was a good budget, but it could’ve been better. Like any other bill that comes to the floor, there are opportunities to introduce amendments. And that’s exactly what we did. We tried to restore BadgerCare expansion, fix our broken school funding formula and offer a tax cut for lower income earners. Unfortunately, as members of the legislative minority, amendments introduced by Democrats are typically rejected. The majority leader habitually stands to reject our motions, which his members obediently follow. All of our ideas are then tabled without debate.

The governor signed the budget with partial vetoes. The budget fell woefully short in many areas but Governor Evers knew the budget needed to pass or we’d risk losing $2.3 billion in additional federal relief for our K-12 schools.

wi-senate-swearingMy Democratic colleagues and I worked with the governor to identify where changes could be made to make the budget better. In the end, Governor Evers signed a budget that provides one of the largest tax cuts in state history, delivers historic broadband investments and frees up more dollars for local K-12 schools. On the same day he signed the budget into law, the governor announced he’ll be allocating an additional $100 million in federal recovery funds to invest in Wisconsin classrooms.

It's challenging for lawmakers to find bipartisan solutions, even when citizens of all political leanings are asking us to find ways to get along and get things done. Although this isn’t the budget I would’ve written, I only hope this is the stepping stone to collaborate and do more for the People of Wisconsin.

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This is Our Shot to End the Pandemic

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, 07 July 2021
in Wisconsin

covid-19-vaccinationIt’s important that more people get vaccinated to keep moving our state in the right direction. Sen. Smith shares information about the COVID-19 vaccine and where Wisconsinites can get their shot.

MADISON, WI - Independence Day is a holiday always filled with many treasured traditions and memorable events. Unfortunately, last year we missed out on many of our favorite ways to celebrate America’s founding – grilling out with friends and family, watching fireworks in a nearby park or lining up on a parade route. We sure were able to do things a lot differently this 4th of July.

Back in March, President Joe Biden predicted our lives would look a lot more normal by the 4th of July. Honestly, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard that. At that point, there was still a limited supply of vaccines available and not all American adults were eligible. Since the spring, President Biden’s Administration has worked hard to expand eligibility, manufacture and distribute doses and get more shots in arms.

Thanks to Governor Tony Evers’ leadership, Wisconsin has consistently ranked one of the top states in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. Just last week, the state passed a notable milestone: 50% of Wisconsinites have received at least one vaccine dose! Here in western Wisconsin, residents have showed up to get their shot. More than 50% of residents in Eau Claire and Trempealeau counties have received at least one dose, with neighboring counties closely catching up. This united effort is what it will take to protect our communities and help our state and economy continue to recover.

While more Wisconsinites get vaccinated, it’s important that we understand we’re still not completely out of the woods yet. COVID-19 variants are emerging and spreading throughout the United States. The Delta variant now accounts for one in four new cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But, the good news from the CDC is that the vaccines “offer protection against most variants spreading in the United States.”

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Scientists and public health experts developed the vaccine using medical research that has been around for decades. The vaccines went through all required stages of clinical trials and continue to undergo intensive safety monitoring, according to the CDC. The vaccines have shown to keep people from getting and spreading COVID-19. Every shot administered gets us one step closer to defeating this virus.

Everyone over the age of 12 is now eligible to get their vaccine, and it’s easy to make an appointment to get your shot. There are many places you can go to get your free COVID-19 vaccine, including your neighborhood pharmacy, your local health department or your doctor. The easiest place to learn where you can get your vaccine is by visiting Vaccines.gov.

The WI Dept. of Health Services outlined a number of resources and programs that are offering support to help you get vaccinated. Free child care is available while parents and caregivers are getting vaccinated. Participating businesses are also offering rewards for getting a vaccine and protecting the community.

We have many reasons to celebrate the 4th of July – Americans’ resiliency is just one of them. The last year and a half has been incredibly challenging. We were apart from our friends, family and neighbors for months. We changed our normal routines and missed out on big life events. Many of us lost loved ones. Despite the challenges and tragedy Americans endured, we found ways to persevere. This is what America is all about.

jeff-smithGenerations before us experienced immense hardship. They lived through devastating wars, social injustice, economic depression and overwhelming uncertainty as to what the future holds. Americans have always found a way to overcome disasters, and this pandemic is no different. The vaccine is our ticket out of the pandemic and to get through to the other side.

I got vaccinated because I knew it was one small way to protect my community and help America bounce back. There are many personal reasons why it’s important to get your vaccine. If you haven’t already, now is your chance to get your shot and ensure we can build a better American future. As citizens have been throughout our country’s history, we’re united in this effort to move America forward.

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Celebrate Immigrant Stories

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, 30 June 2021
in Wisconsin

immigrants-usaSen. Smith reflects on the contributions of immigrants in honor of Immigrant Heritage Month.

MADISON - Many Americans are interested in genealogy and learning how their personal heritage has evolved over generations. New technology makes it even easier to trace one’s genealogy, simply by sending in a sample of DNA. While we know that our genetic makeup is split in many different ways, we share a curiosity of learning where we’re from and how our story started.

June is National Immigrant Heritage Month, so what better time to celebrate the contributions of immigrants throughout our country’s history and reflect on where our own ancestors came from.

In my case, my wife has done a lot of digging into her own family for her parents. Her father, in particular, has always been interested in his roots. Once we started, our curiosity grew and spread to my side of the family as well. We found that one of my ancestors arrived here as early as the late 16th century. It really is surprising what we can learn.

America is incredibly diverse. From the First Nations, to modern day immigrants, we really are like a big salad bowl; different cultures and identities are all mixed together, but each has something unique to bring.

Immigrants have always faced immense challenges. Even before immigrants set foot in America, they faced hardship in their home countries, like starvation, war or political oppression. We must acknowledge that a significant population was enslaved and forced here by slave traders.

Immigrants faced a whole new set of challenges after arriving in an unfamiliar place. Although the United States is a nation of immigrants, prejudicial, nativist attitudes greeted many newcomers; this has always fascinated me because many of us are immigrants ourselves.

immigrants-europe“The refugees seeking haven in America were poor and disease-ridden. They threatened to take jobs away from Americans and strain welfare budgets … They were bringing with them crime … And, worst of all, these undesirables were Irish.” This excerpt was taken from an article describing the Great Famine and migration to America in the 19th century. When the Irish arrived, they faced discrimination from many of those who were already living here.

While the Irish were landing on our eastern shores in the mid-19th century, Chinese immigrants were coming to California to escape the economic chaos in their homeland. They were treated as cheap labor in the mines and on the railroad lines connecting the west to the east. Immigrants have been discriminated against, harassed, exploited and used as a political scapegoat. Today, we still see how cultural intolerance targets and vilifies certain groups, which can lead to racialized violence.

Immigrants have found ways to persevere despite overwhelming adversity. Whether immigrants arrived in the 19th century or just this year, they’ve made our country stronger. A more recent example that many of us in Wisconsin are familiar with is the Hmong migration after the Vietnam War. Immigrants are our country’s entrepreneurs, healthcare workers, farmers, small business owners, veterans, community leaders and so much more. We truly would not be the United States of America without them.

jeff-smithMy mother’s parents each came here in the early 20th century from Poland. My grandfather arrived in 1914 and returned to Europe as early as 1917 fighting for his new country in World War I. It was common for immigrants to defend the United States in wars.

What I recall from my own Polish relatives is that they lived in a neighborhood and associated with other Polish immigrants. There was even a Polish Club for dances and events. This is still typical for many large cities with culturally distinct neighborhoods.

The upcoming Independence Day holiday should be a reminder of the opportunity America promises to many. While we were taught to think romantically of immigrants arriving on ships with their first view of America being the Statue of Liberty, immigrants risk so much for a better future.

America is a nation of immigrants, all with their own story to share. During Immigrant Heritage Month, make a commitment to listen to these stories and learn from your neighbors. Let’s reflect on where we come from and respect all immigrants as we would our own family.

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