Tuesday June 28, 2022

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Raise Your Glass (of Milk) and Celebrate 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, 02 June 2021
in Wisconsin

farm-familySen. Smith writes about how Wisconsinites can celebrate Dairy Month in June. Dairy breakfasts are just one way to show your appreciation for our farmers and members of Wisconsin’s agricultural industry.


MADISON - There has always been an attachment to agriculture for Wisconsinites. From the earliest days, the hilly landscape and fertile soils of the Driftless region provided perfect conditions for producing food. It helps, too, that Wisconsin has so much fresh water nearby.

Thanks to this ideal landscape and generations of hard work, Wisconsin built a reputation over time as a top agricultural producer and a state that will never deny a love for food.

While our state is a national leader in cranberry and potato production, dairy is still king in Wisconsin. Despite the loss of many farms in our state, we’ve still held on to the title of America’s Dairyland – and for good reason. We have 1.28 million cows and almost 7,000 dairy farms in Wisconsin, which is more than any other state. Dairy alone accounts for $45.6 billion to our economy in Wisconsin. If these numbers didn’t convince you, the fact that Packer fans wear a foam cheese hat to games is evidence enough that we take our title of America’s Dairyland very seriously.

Wisconsinites will never shy away from the chance to eat a squeaky cheese curd, order a scoop of fresh ice cream or go head-to-head in a milk chug challenge. And that’s why we proudly celebrate June as Dairy Month. It all starts with fresh milk from healthy cows, but there are so many hardworking professionals that go to work every day so you can enjoy the best dairy products in the country. From our dedicated farmers and milk haulers to the technicians and cheesemakers of Wisconsin – we celebrate them and their work during Dairy Month!

Year after year, Wisconsin cheesemakers prove their products are incomparable. From Colby to cheddar; from Gouda to asiago; from string cheese to cheese curds, we’re spoiled here with the best tasting cheeses in the world. With over 1,200 licensed cheesemakers producing over 600 types of cheeses, we have almost twice as many cheese choices than any other state. Our cheesemakers produce 26% of the cheese consumed in America, which amounted to 3.39 billion pounds in 2020.

Our cheesemakers export their products around the world with the leading importers of our dairy products being Canada, China and Japan. Okay, maybe the deep-fried cheese curds aren’t the healthiest food, but you can’t beat that very special treat to share with friends.

Don’t just take it from me; athletes can also vouch for Wisconsin dairy. Fun fact: chocolate milk is a proven best source for sport recovery. In fact, studies conducted in high school sports camps found that athletes drinking chocolate milk saw greater improvement in their performance over those who drank a sugary sports drink. It appears chocolate milk is not just for fun and flavor.

jeff-smithFor almost 50 years, Wisconsin has celebrated June Dairy Month with dairy breakfasts in nearly every county. Each year a different farm will host a dairy breakfast in their county, making it even more fun and interesting. Anyone can attend and they do by the thousands. You’ll find hundreds of people in line for delicious pancakes, waffles, milk, cheese curds and ice cream served by the host family and volunteers from the area.

Dairy breakfasts are more than just about the food, though. It’s about learning where our milk comes from. As visitors tromp around the grounds, they’re able to take hay rides, examine the latest equipment and even watch demonstrations. Of course, the animals are often the main attraction for young kids.

Dairy breakfasts have proven to be extremely successful over the years. Host families put in a lot of work to make it a memorable experience for every visitor. Show your appreciation for our farmers and members of Wisconsin’s agricultural industry by visiting a dairy breakfast this June. Find your nearest dairy breakfast at WisconsinDairy.org and bring the family out this month to enjoy some live music, farm activities and the best breakfast you could ask for.

Statistics in this column come from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

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Wisconsin Workers Deserve Results, Not Rhetoric

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, 26 May 2021
in Wisconsin

unemployment-office-lineSen. Smith writes about recent legislative efforts to prematurely end unemployment insurance benefits for unemployed Wisconsinites.


MADISON - When a friend or neighbor is struggling, what’s your first instinct? Most of us would likely ask if there’s any way to help. The alternative would be to ignore them or suggest they try harder and buck up. Some would say that others’ troubles are their own tough luck or made from their own bad choices.

It may be true that a small number of people bring their troubles on themselves, but sometimes it just comes down to bad luck. For that reason, insurance is available to assist individuals in difficult times like these. People pay into a fund in case misfortune arises. We pay, hoping we’ll never need to make a claim, but it’s reassuring to know this support is available just in case. We accept this is the way insurance works.

Wisconsin’s Unemployment Insurance fund works the same way. Unemployment insurance (UI) is not welfare. UI is an insurance policy similar to what we have to protect our belongings, home, health and even our lives.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many Wisconsinites who never needed unemployment insurance assistance suddenly found themselves laid off and struggling to cover their bills. The UI system was overwhelmed almost overnight with claims.

With nearly unanimous bipartisan support, Congress passed the CARES Act around this time creating additional unemployment insurance benefits to support Wisconsinites. These additional benefits proved to be invaluable for many unemployed workers who couldn’t access regular UI benefits or lost unrecoverable wages.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) specifically made $300 payments available for working families to spend in their local communities at grocery stores, restaurants and other local small businesses. That extra $300 kept families from suffering more while the pandemic created chaos in our economy.

Now, in May 2021, as the economy is slowly beginning to roll again, legislative Republicans want to prematurely end the $300 FPUC payments and repeal three other UI federal programs that are still supporting working families in our state.

Republican leaders are using the workforce shortage as an excuse to deny unemployed workers the UI benefits they’ve earned. UI benefits are not to blame for the labor shortage. Just look at the recent unemployment numbers that have returned to pre-pandemic levels: in the last two months, the rate was below 4% (3.8% in March and 3.9% in April). A year ago in April of 2020, the rate had hit a high of 13.6%. Additionally, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate of 3.8% in February was far below the national average of 6.2%. Wisconsin workers are back to work despite the Republican rhetoric!

jeff-smithIt’s important to point out many of the challenges related to workforce retention existed long before the pandemic, and again can’t be attributed to UI. Before the pandemic, parents struggled to find reliable, affordable childcare near their workplaces; this problem has only worsened now that 25% of all daycare centers in our state have permanently closed. Wisconsin still has a caregiver crisis with many employees in that field transferring to different industries that deliver better wages. The lack of broadband access and affordable housing can limit someone’s ability to move or change vocations. And some workers may have made the decision to go back to school and re-train for the next work challenge with the loss of their previous job.

Keep in mind that the politicians who gave themselves a 300 day vacation in 2020 – without losing any pay – are the same politicians who are taking away workers’ UI compensation.

UI payments are the low-hanging fruit Republicans are grasping for to justify their inaction on long-term workforce development solutions. We need to think smarter about ways we can strategically improve issues, like childcare access or broadband expansion, in our communities. It will take time and effort, but Wisconsin’s future is worth it.

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Fair Maps are the Will of the People

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 Monday, 17 May 2021
in Wisconsin

voting-2020Sen. Jeff Smith and Rep. Deb Andraca write about the Fair Maps Bill they are introducing on May 17th to create a nonpartisan redistricting reform process in Wisconsin.


MADISON - There seems to be only one thing people of both political parties can agree on -- our legislative process is broken. Compromise is rare, most elections have pre-ordained winners, and incumbents feel free to ignore constituents who disagree with them. Fortunately, we have an opportunity to fix the problem once and for all.  We can restore Wisconsin’s reputation as a state that works by and for the people, and we have introduced legislation that can do just that.

We are two elected officials who unequivocally believe that politicians should not draw political maps, which is why we are introducing the Fair Maps Bill. This legislation would establish an independent, non-partisan commission to create legislative districts based on commonsense principles including compactness, following municipal boundaries, and keeping communities together whenever possible.

To understand why these reforms are needed, just look at what happened last time the maps were created. Ten years ago legislative districts were drawn in secret, by private attorneys working for Republican politicians, with zero input from the public and one partisan objective: to take decision-making away from the voters and give it to a political party. With the help of secrecy oaths and computer algorithms unavailable to past mapmakers, Republicans drew crazy political boundaries that locked in their party’s advantage for a decade.

And it worked! Wisconsin is known as a “purple” state because every statewide election is decided by extremely thin margins, yet in the Wisconsin legislature one party has an overwhelming majority in both the Senate and the Assembly.  This majority is far beyond anything that can be explained by political geography.

Unfortunately, gerrymandering has been a bipartisan issue nationally. For instance, Maryland has a Democratic gerrymander that is just as skewed as Wisconsin’s because, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be tempted to lock in job security for a decade?

jeff-smithBut one politician’s gain is a collective loss to our state and our democracy. When Democrats and Republicans run in “safe” seats we get candidates loyal to the party, not the people in their district. Moderate Republican or Democratic candidates cannot win in highly partisan districts. This leaves a gap where bipartisanship is usually able to grow and thrive. Gerrymandered maps produce candidates who are comfortable, serving year after year with no incentive to innovate or do better. Competition is good for business, and competition is good for candidates too.

Deb AndracaFor those who say we can never remove partisanship from the process, we need look no further than our own Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB). Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to pioneer a state-level, non-partisan, professional legislative support staff. LRB works with both Republicans and Democrats to ensure our laws are crafted to the best of our abilities without unintended legal consequences. These men and women aren’t political appointees and are trained to help each member based solely on the substance of the issue at hand.

The Fair Maps Bill would utilize the expertise of the existing LRB staff, with input from a citizen-led Redistricting Advisory Commission, to create maps that are fair, compact, and as free from political favoritism as possible.

We need the Fair Maps Bill to prevent Wisconsin maps from ever being gerrymandered again, by any political party, for partisan gain. We don’t want our kids facing this crisis ten years from now. We want to join Iowa, Michigan, and the eleven other states that have a nonpartisan redistricting commission instead of waging expensive, taxpayer-funded legal battles.

We want politicians, like us, to stay out of the map making process. But most of all we want to fix this problem once and for all to restore Wisconsin’s tradition of open government. Contact your elected representatives at 1-800-362-9472 and tell them to support the Fair Maps Bill because if there is one more thing we should all agree on, it is that the will of the people -- not political parties -- should be the law of the land.

 

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Senator Jeff Smith (D – Brunswick) represents the 31st Senate District including Buffalo and Pepin counties and portions of Trempealeau, Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire and Jackson counties and very small portions of Chippewa and St. Croix counties.

Representative Deb Andraca (D – Whitefish Bay) represents the 23rd Assembly District including communities of Bayside, Fox Point, Grafton, Mequon, Thiensville and Whitefish Bay.

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You Are Not Alone: Recognizing Mental Health Awareness 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, 12 May 2021
in Wisconsin

overdose depression Sen. Smith writes about the prevalence of mental illness in the U.S. so we can better support those who may be struggling and help them understand it’s okay to not be okay.


MADISON - You are not alone – you may hear this often, but especially during May and Mental Health Awareness Month. Historically, there have been stigmas attached to mental illness, preventing people from talking about it or even considering what it really is. As a society we can make tremendous differences if only we accept that the brain is like any other organ in our body. We need to take care of our mental health just as much as our physical health.

Over the last year, more Americans struggled with their mental health as a result of the pandemic. People experienced greater isolation and stress, which contributed to increased anxiety and depression. During Mental Health Awareness Month and beyond, it’s important that we have conversations about our mental health needs and fully understand it’s okay to not be okay. Many Americans struggle with mental health, but there are people and resources available to help and provide support.

Mental health is prevalent within the United States and disproportionately impacts certain populations. NAMI reports that one in five adults each year will experience some form of mental illness each year while less than half will seek treatment.

It’s worth noting that 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% by age 24. This statistic certainly illuminates the need to treat symptoms as early as possible. Sadly, the average length of time between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. This gives some indication as to how difficult it can be to diagnose mental illness at such a young age and work with affected parties on early intervention strategies.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the 10 to 34 year age group, and the tenth leading cause overall. This is a tragedy families should never have to endure; we can reduce those numbers dramatically with greater mental health awareness and support.

Members of the LGBTQ community experience societal prejudice and discrimination, which contribute to higher rates of mental illness. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth. Even more shocking is the fact that transgender adults are twelve times more likely to attempt suicide. With those statistics on our conscience, it would be wise for politicians to stop ostracizing the LGBTQ community and develop policies inclusive of all identities.

homeless-winterAdditional statistics show just how prevalent mental health illness is in our communities. More than 20% of citizens experiencing homelessness, 37% of incarcerated adults and 70.4% of youth in the juvenile justice system suffer from a diagnosed mental illness. Forty-one percent of Veterans Health Administration patients suffer from a mental health disorder or drug addiction.

There is often a connection between a drug abuse disorder and mental illness, with stigmas attached to both. For too long, our society has blamed the victims of drug addiction and mental illness for their disease. With this mindset, there was rarely any compassion or services for people who needed help.

jeff-smithMental health diagnosis and treatment continue to be inaccessible for many Americans. Today 55% of U.S. counties still don’t have a single practicing psychiatrist. Even if mental health treatment is nearby, affordability of care is a major concern. Fortunately, laws have been in place and amended over time to ensure that patients with mental illness are not discriminated against. But, there’s still more we can do to improve accessibility and affordability and remove barriers for Americans seeking support.

Much has been learned about mental health illness and treatment needs, but we still have a lot to learn. We risk paying a high cost if we don’t accept that mental health illness exists. Though May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the weight of a mental illness impacts those who suffer all year long. Be understanding and compassionate as you would with anyone who suffers any other illness. And for those who suffer: you are not alone.

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Community Immunity

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, 05 May 2021
in Wisconsin

covid-19-vaccinationSen. Smith writes about the importance of getting vaccinated to protect our neighbors and families. Like other past health crises, COVID-19 vaccines will get us closer to reaching herd immunity and putting the pandemic behind us.


MADISON - At every stage of the pandemic, we’ve done what’s best to keep our communities safe. We stayed home, socially-distanced and started wearing masks all to protect our neighbors and families. The pandemic isn’t over just yet – we still need to work together to put the pandemic behind us. Everyone will need to pitch in by getting vaccinated so we can reach herd immunity.

From the very beginning of the pandemic we heard the goal was to reach herd immunity. I don’t ever recall knowing anything about herd immunity before, but then again we never faced anything like this in our lifetime. So, what is herd immunity?

An easy way to think of herd immunity is “community immunity.” Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person-to-person less likely. We can reach herd immunity when a proportion of the population that is immune is greater than the population susceptible to contracting the disease. Herd immunity is reached when enough people have developed protective antibodies to the disease. There are two ways this can happen, either through infection or inoculation.

Scientists and healthcare professionals developed and delivered the COVID-19 vaccine at a rapid pace without risking an individual’s health and safety. Like during wartimes, the urgency of the moment brought out the best in our scientists and medical minds. In just a matter of months we had multiple vaccines available and distributed to every state. Wisconsin remains a national leader in getting shots in arms, thanks to the diligent work of Governor Tony Evers’ Administration.

The pace at which scientists developed a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, compared to that of other well-documented vaccines is mind blowing. In the late 1940s polio outbreaks were frequent, disabling more than 35,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It took years of research and trials before the polio vaccine was widely distributed. After the polio vaccines were introduced in 1955 and 1963, cases fell to less than 100 per year in the 1960s and less than 10 in the 1970s. Since 1979, no cases of polio have originated in the United States. But it takes just one traveler with polio to bring it into the U.S. if we aren’t vigilant and our communities aren’t immunized.

jeff-smithThere have been more than 31 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. since the beginning of 2020. At the time this column was published, approximately 103 million Americans were fully vaccinated, or 31% of the population. In Wisconsin nearly 2 million people have been fully vaccinated, which accounts for almost 35% of our population.

It’s a good start, but not where we need to be. Like most major achievements, it only gets harder as we get closer to the finish line. But, if we work together we can improve our chances of stopping the spread and eradicating COVID-19.

If you or someone you know is hesitant, please consider the community around you. Professionals are available to answer your questions and share the facts about the COVID-19 vaccine.

If you’re still doing your research, it’s important to know that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC have detailed the vaccines’ safety and efficacy.

Additionally, the COVID-19 vaccines cannot give you the virus. According to the CDC, COVID-19 vaccines teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. This may cause you to have some side effects, but that’s normal.

You should also know that COVID-19 vaccines are FREE. There are many options where you can get vaccinated, including your local health department, pharmacies, community-based vaccination clinics, on-site vaccination clinics and your doctor or healthcare provider.

You can find a vaccine provider by visiting vaccinefinder.org and inserting your zip code. It is free, simple and safe. Getting vaccinated is the right thing to do for yourself, your family and your neighbors to reach community immunity.

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