Wednesday May 12, 2021

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Aging in Rural Wisconsin

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, 24 June 2020
in Wisconsin

door-county-peopleSen. Jeff Smith writes about the existing challenges farmers face when aging in rural Wisconsin.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Growing old is an inevitable part of life. When it comes to aging, we can’t help but wonder where we’ll live when we retire, the quality of life we’ll have and how we’ll stay healthy. While most of us want to remain in our homes for as long as possible, aging in place is almost a must for farmers in rural Wisconsin.

Last week, I participated in a webinar about aging on the farm in rural Wisconsin. We learned about the unique challenges farmers face when it comes to aging, compared to older adults in other areas of the state.

Farmers have to be more than just an agricultural expert. They must be efficient in welding, woodworking, plumbing, machine repair and more. Farming is so multi-faceted that it’s hard for a farmer to imagine why they need a hobby. Even between planting and harvesting, there’s always plenty of repair work, while advising and supervising the next generation of farmers. This explains why farmers never really retire.

wisc-dairy-farmFarming families take pride in how many generations have grown up and continued the legacy of farming. I recently saw a report on television about a dairy farmer named Mr. Anderson who was ending his business after five generations. When asked what he’d do next, Mr. Anderson said he’d have to figure it out.

Like Mr. Anderson, when there isn’t that next generation ready to take over, there comes a time when a farmer is forced to make the tough choice and sell their equipment, land and other assets.

Often, even after selling assets, a farm couple will stay in their home and lease out the land. That way, they can age in place on their own terms. But, even under those circumstances, challenges exist.

In urban areas, medical care is within reach and grocery stores are usually nearby. However, aging in place in rural Wisconsin is more difficult. A hospital might be an hour or more away and groceries may be just as far. Neighbors, of course, don’t just happen to walk by and check on you when you are living on the farm.

When the time comes and it’s clear that more support is needed, they may search out long term care. It was common for small cities and villages to have assisted living facilities. I recall when my wife’s grandfather, who farmed in the Town of Chimney Rock, moved into the facility in Strum. Gramps knew many of the staff and appreciated that his own sister worked there and could look after him.

That isn’t the case anymore. It’s hard to find any village with a facility because they’ve mostly closed. Now, it’s not only more difficult to age in place, it’s difficult to even make the move into a facility nearby. Since many aging adults don’t have the option to choose their own facility, many find themselves far away from their loved ones, taking a toll on their physical and mental health.

While a semi-retired, seasoned farmer faces many challenges while on the farm, we must find ways to support those who choose to age in place in rural Wisconsin.

jeff-smithWisconsin must expand Medicaid to ensure residents have accessible and affordable healthcare. These federal funds would allow us to pay home healthcare workers a livable wage, empowering more of us to stay in our homes and communities as we age.

It’s equally important that Wisconsin expands its broadband infrastructure to ensure residents in rural Wisconsin have access to telehealth services, social media to stay in touch with loved ones and the opportunity to order groceries and medicine.

Even the professor leading the discussion on our call listed broadband expansion as a top solution. I didn’t expect this forum to become another opportunity for broadband expansion, but I shouldn’t be surprised it’s part of every conversation these days and the solution to so many issues we face.

Generations of farmers have supported our communities and the state as a whole; their contributions are what makes rural Wisconsin such a great place to live. We owe a lot of gratitude to our farmers – we must continue finding ways to support Wisconsin farmers in all stages of life.

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The Movement America Has Been Waiting For

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, 17 June 2020
in Wisconsin

george-floyd-protest-eau-claireWe still have a lot of work ahead of us to address systemic racism and injustice, and it will take a collective effort to achieve equality.


MADISON - This Friday, on June 19th, our country celebrates Juneteenth, an important holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves dating back to 1865. In the 155 years since the Emancipation Proclamation was read to freed slaves, many Americans have believed our country simply fixed its biased attitudes and racist behavior.

However, this assumption is far from the truth. The legacy of racism within our country wasn’t resolved because of the Emancipation Proclamation or the civil rights demonstrations in the mid-20th century. The fight for racial and social equity is nowhere near close to being finished.

Today, because we’ve never actually addressed racism and injustice through systemic societal change, we are experiencing a reaction that should not surprise anyone. Like a volcano that erupts after we’ve ignored it when it’s only boiling within its boundaries, racism hasn’t gone away because we chose to look away.

Racism is weaved into the social fabric blanketing our country. The everyday reality of racism may not be visible to many Americans, but it is very much there and will continue to exist unless we do more to reveal racial prejudice and expose institutional racism within our society.

The terrible murders of unarmed Black persons have continued to expose racial discrimination within America and have set off a powerful reaction across this country. Ahmaud Arbery was a young man out jogging when he was chased down by white supremacist vigilantes and killed. Breonna Taylor, an EMT in Louisville, was murdered in her own home by police. George Floyd was killed after an officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

juneteenth-1900These recent deaths have shed light on the horrific violence invoked by racial prejudice, but appallingly there’s a much longer history of suffering and brutality, at the hands of white vigilantes and police, against the Black community.

Activists throughout the country are raising awareness of racial injustice, while challenging all Americans to not only condemn racism, but actively work to be anti-racist. This movement and the call to action from young people, especially, allow me to feel optimistic. This eruption of social activism may be the push our country needs to think critically about changing the landscape and creating a more equitable society.

Last week, members of the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus sent a letter to Governor Tony Evers requesting a special session to take up legislation to reform the justice system at the state level. Their letter cites the emergent need for a special session while laying out the existing support from civilians and law enforcement alike. I’m proud to stand behind my colleagues within the Legislative Black Caucus in supporting a call to reform the justice system.

Achieving equality will take hard work and persistence. It isn’t enough for people to want justice and peace – we have to make it happen. Don’t walk away when the going gets tough. Be sure to hold your elected officials accountable. Don’t let your elected officials ignore this movement and move on, like so many already do.

jeff-smithToo many legislators know that if they just hide from the issue it’ll be forgotten and they’ll never have to answer the tough questions or take the tough vote. This movement will take endurance from all citizens who are demanding justice right now.

The change we need won’t happen tomorrow or next fall just because there are elections. It won’t even happen next year until laws are debated and votes are taken.

Just like any lesson we learn from history, we cannot ignore the work that must be done to truly achieve the promise of the Declaration of Independence for all Americans to obtain, “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A more just, equitable society will take more than changes in the law; it will take a change in attitude and willingness to learn and grow. I’m optimistic that our collective efforts will make a difference.

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What We Can Learn From Dairy Month

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, 10 June 2020
in Wisconsin

farm-familyThe Senator writes about ways we can support our dairy farmers and celebrate June Dairy Month in Wisconsin. He reflects on conversations with friends from the farming community and their ability to be resilient during tough times.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Last Friday, I had the chance to connect virtually with some good friends in western Wisconsin to celebrate June Dairy Month. We had a conversation about the ways dairy has made an impression on our own lives and the impact the dairy industry has on the State of Wisconsin. And of course, after sharing stories, we started a milk chug challenge, throwing back glasses of fresh, cold milk.

My friends on the call are farmers or have close ties to Wisconsin’s dairy industry going back generations within their family. They talked about their interest and lifelong dedication to the dairy industry while sharing their optimism of better days ahead for dairy farmers.

Time and again, Wisconsin’s dairy farmers have exemplified their resilience in times of uncertainty. This time isn’t any different. During June Dairy Month, let’s remember all of the contributions our dairy farmers have made to make Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland. Although we’ll be celebrating Dairy Month differently this year, we can still find ways to support our state’s farmers and the dairy industry.

During the beginning of the 20th century, farmers experienced an agricultural crisis like they’d never seen before. The rising cost of agricultural products after World War I, in addition to extreme drought conditions, created significant problems for farmers trying to make ends meet.

Even at the end of the 20th century, farmers still faced significant market challenges. Many of us can still remember the heart-wrenching bankruptcies and farm auctions that destroyed the dreams of many farming families. But, once again, the grit of our farmers showed through as they stuck with their love for the land and their lifestyle.

Today, our farmers are still facing serious challenges, many of which are man-made. While farmers experience the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic head-on, they’re still under escalating pressure due to over-production, high land prices, and low milk prices. But farmers push ahead and show us, how resilient they can be in stressful situations.

During last Friday’s call, Shane Goplin, a member of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, proudly said, “Dairy is the glue that keeps rural America together.” I couldn’t agree more and that’s why I’m so committed to making sure we do everything we can to support our hardworking dairy farmers.

We all have a role to play to support our farmers moving forward and to keep our close-knit rural communities growing stronger. The Legislature must get to work, set aside ideological politics, and pass policies that give farmers the resources and tools they need to survive. I know that laying out the tools in front of clever and resilient people leads to amazing growth both intellectually and economically, just like farmers have demonstrated throughout the last century.

In May, Governor Tony Evers announced the distribution of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for Wisconsin. As part of this relief package, $50 million will be directed toward the Wisconsin Farm Support Program, which will provide payments between $1,000 and $3,500 for eligible farmers. The goal of the program is to provide immediate assistance to farmers struggling amid this global pandemic. This is a solid first step, but it’s only a down payment for what else the state must do to offer support to help our farmers.

jeff-smithWhile there are state-level solutions that must be considered and passed, there are simple ways you can support Wisconsin’s dairy farmers during June Dairy Month. Start by buying dairy products from local family farmers and producers. Find out if your county is celebrating June Dairy Month through a virtual or drive-thru dairy breakfast. Also, take part in a milk chug challenge with your friends on social media to share why you’re thankful for our farmers and what Wisconsin’s dairy industry means to you.

Like always, we should acknowledge our farmers’ resiliency to get us through these tough times. During this month, as we celebrate Wisconsin’s dairy industry, let’s remember how our farmers’ determination has pulled us through crises before. Let’s learn from them and return the favor, honoring them in the month of June and supporting them for years to come.

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Be the Change We Need

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, 03 June 2020
in Wisconsin

george-floyd-protest-mdsn-wprCommunities across the country are coming together to raise awareness of the racial inequities that exist in America. We all have a responsibility to make a difference moving forward.


MADISON, WI - In the months since Wisconsin has been impacted by COVID-19, we’ve all thought about the day that our lives will begin to return to normal. It’s an understandable thought to have. After all, the pandemic has forced us to make changes in nearly every aspect of our lives.

But this calls into question, what does “normal” really mean?

Our country is reeling in the tragic death of George Floyd, another Black man whose life was taken too soon. Communities across the country have come together to mourn, listen, and raise awareness of the systemic inequities causing traumatic suffering for people of color in our country.

This is a wake-up call for all of us. Even after we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not be comfortable with a society that normalizes racial prejudice and injustice. We must find the resolve to do what is needed in pursuit of a more equitable environment. Together, we must challenge the normalcy of racism in our country.

george-floyd-protest-eau-claireThere are many Americans who have a difficult time believing racism still exists in our country. From stereotypes broadcast in the media, horrific acts of violence or the disparities impacting communities of color, it’s clear our country still has a racial divide.

In fact, the ongoing public health crisis provides a striking example of the ways racism still impacts communities of color. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, as of May 31st, 25% of Wisconsin residents who died due to COVID-19 were Black, even though this group makes up less than 7% of the state’s population. Public health experts have attributed the disproportionate number of deaths in the Black community to health and economic disparities.

We need to ask ourselves how many more times must we talk about this with little or no action to show?

For decades, politicians have been aware of racial disparities in America; yet, it seems our country’s leaders either deny it completely or only talk about how terrible it is without taking meaningful action. After seeing the upsetting video of the murder of George Floyd, I knew that my words would be inadequate. Once again, politicians’ thoughts, prayers and empty promises aren’t enough. This time, we must make our words matter. We need systemic change now.

Like so many other deaths of Black men and women that should have never happened, words didn’t save George Floyd. For as long as our country has existed, we’ve ignored brutal injustices that occurred in America. Possibly because it’s often easier for those of us with white privilege to look away. This time we can’t look away. We can only move on with heavy hearts and determination to make change.

We all have a responsibility to make a difference. On Sunday, I participated in a moving vigil held for Mr. Floyd with more than 300 other concerned citizens from the Eau Claire area. We heard from a woman who used to live in Minneapolis who remembered George Floyd as someone who looked out for her and others. Eau Claire Police Chief Matt Rokus answered questions people had regarding police training and equipment. Local officials spoke of how horrified they were when they saw the video. Together, we talked about what we can do as a community to change the status quo.

jeff-smithI can assure you, as a leader and as an ally, I am committed to working toward an equitable future. As an ally, I will listen, take a step back and let others speak and always make myself available to learn. I will allow myself to feel uncomfortable while confronting racism engrained in our country.

In my role as a state senator, I’ll continue this mission, working with my legislative colleagues to advance policies to prioritize equity and ensure there are not unintended consequences that would negatively affect communities of color.

It’s time we speak up and act. Returning to normal leaves people, and entire communities, behind. Remember, all lives don’t matter until black lives matter. It’s our responsibility to make the world a better place and it starts with each and every one of us. Do your part to move Wisconsin forward.

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Restoring Trust in Trying Times

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, 27 May 2020
in Wisconsin

covid-19-protest-madisonSen. Smith writes about the role and responsibility of government. While facing this current public health, we must remind ourselves of all the good our government can do serving its people.


MADISON, WI - At times, there is a real disconnect between science and politics in our country. But, in the case of how we handle a pandemic, it can be dangerous.

For decades, we’ve been fed the philosophy that government can’t be trusted. Don’t get me wrong, too many politicians throughout history have brought that on by corrupt and often selfish behavior. Problems within government can become sensationalized and people begin to think that is the standard rather than the exception. It begins to impair our judgement of government and the important role it has in our lives. For every problem reported on by the media there are scores of examples how innovative solutions are found.

wi-senate-swearing-inThe doubt we may have for irresponsible political leaders, initiates a pattern of distrust in government as a whole, causing skepticism of government officials who possess the expertise to make decisions in the public interest. Dangerously, the distrust of government can spill over into the world of science, influencing opinions of public health. It’s clear this is happening today with just how easily a deadly virus has been twisted into a political football.

This pandemic has affected our lives at every level. It forced us to take another look at the role of government. We have a chance to reevaluate how the economy is driven, how education is provided, where we get healthcare and even how we socialize. With all that to consider we may also reshape how we are governed or, at least, how we perceive government.

Wisconsin has a rich history of being an innovator for solving government’s biggest issues. In 1911, Wisconsin passed the first Worker’s Compensation Program. During the Great Depression, Wisconsin created the first Unemployment Insurance program in 1932 and our nation’s Social Security system in 1934.

When people lost their savings, their homes and their futures, Wisconsin stepped up as an innovator during our nation’s most difficult times. The federal government, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, started the New Deal to put people to work, resulting in an amazing network of roads, parks and connectivity for many who needed it. New agencies and programs were established out of necessity to support farmers, young workers and families.

This period saw the consolidation of one-room schoolhouses, which resulted in a revolution of educated and successful entrepreneurs and scientists elevating America to become the envy of all the world. The government supported these aspirations by returning the investment Americans contributed. School districts and elected school boards of our peers were formed to govern and make decisions that we trusted would be in the best interest of our children.

Our government also increased healthcare accessibility and affordability through the Affordable Care Act and BadgerCare Program. Veterans are covered through the Veterans Administration as a benefit for their service. Medicare was adopted for seniors, which we pay into throughout our lives so we can retire with less worry. Again, those programs are what we do for each other and for the benefit of society – it’s what we expect from government because we invest in it.

jeff-smithSome of us don’t think twice about these programs until we need them. This current crisis has forced many to file for unemployment insurance or apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for the first time in their lives. While we each strive to support ourselves and our families, we are grateful to have these government programs during emergencies.

That’s why, when so many have found they need assistance, government may be rediscovered as a partner to wade through this uneasy time.

Now is the time to rethink the role of government, not simply as an entity working against us, held in disdain by so many, but a representative body contributing to society. At times, I understand some of us haven’t felt the government and politicians lived up to their expectations. The responsibilities of our government must reflect the priorities of the people. To achieve this, we must restore trust and remind ourselves all the good our government can do serving its people.

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