Wednesday May 12, 2021

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Expand BadgerCare and Bring our Dollars Back 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, 31 March 2021
in Wisconsin

healthcare-family-drSen. Smith writes about Gov. Evers’ budget proposal to expand BadgerCare in our state. BadgerCare expansion ensures we’re being smart by covering more people while returning our tax dollars back to Wisconsin.


MADISON - On March 23rd, we commemorated the eleventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) being signed into law. Since its passage, 2.6 million Wisconsinites with preexisting conditions have benefited from enhanced healthcare protections. This certainly is an anniversary to celebrate, but it also reminds us that we still have work to do to get more Wisconsinites covered.

Thanks to the ACA, the federal government has offered to return our own tax dollars back to Wisconsin if we expand BadgerCare, Wisconsin’s Medicaid program. Unfortunately, it’s been eleven years and we still haven’t expanded BadgerCare. If Wisconsin expanded BadgerCare when the ACA first passed, Wisconsin taxpayers would have saved $2.1 billion. These savings could’ve been used to lower prescription drug costs, expand mental health services, improve pregnancy outcomes and more. Wisconsin is still being held back by leaders playing politics with people’s healthcare.

If our own tax dollars can be returned right back to us, I suspect most people would consider it a no-brainer to accept. After all, why should we pay to expand health care access in other states– which is what we’re doing now–before addressing our challenges here at home?

Governor Tony Evers’ 2021-23 budget includes a proposal to expand BadgerCare in Wisconsin. In doing so, we’d be able to expand healthcare coverage to 90,900 more Wisconsinites while also saving our state $634 million. We know Wisconsin could draw in an additional $2 billion from the federal government since President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, according to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. These savings could be reinvested back into new and existing healthcare programs serving residents across the state.

Medicaid ensures that Wisconsin residents have access to preventive and lifesaving healthcare. Current Medicaid programs–including IRIS, Family Care and SeniorCare–are available to help individuals living in poverty, people with disabilities and those who may be ineligible for Medicare. Medicaid provides prescription drug subsidies through SeniorCare. Medicaid helps cover screenings and treatment for breast and cervical cancer for women under the age of sixty-five. BadgerCare expansion would help more Wisconsinites by increasing reimbursements and building greater capacity of existing Medicaid programs.

We have an opportunity right in front of us to cover more Wisconsinites while also saving our state money. This would seem like an easy decision, right? After all, this is about bringing back our federal tax dollars to Wisconsin. The Republican Majority has a different idea. Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) called Medicaid Expansion a “nonstarter” doubling down on Republicans’ opposition.

Many politicians seem to believe healthcare is a privilege – as if the quality of care you receive should depend on how wealthy you are. Whether you believe healthcare is a right or a privilege, our federal tax dollars are still being sent to other states to pay for their programs when it should be coming back here.

jeff-smithWisconsin is one of only twelve states that have refused to expand Medicaid. Recent reports suggest Wyoming, Alabama and Texas are stepping closer to final passage. We’re paying for these states to expand Medicaid without taking care of residents here in Wisconsin.

We need Medicaid because of our current healthcare system that predicates profit over public health. With a broken healthcare system driven by insurance companies and big pharmaceutical corporations, the most humane thing we can do as a society is ensure that all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality health care. BadgerCare expansion ensures we’re being smart by returning our dollars to lower the cost of Medicaid programs overall.

We can get this done, right here in Wisconsin, by expanding BadgerCare.

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Wisconsin Women to Remember

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 March 2021
in Wisconsin

women-preparing-leadIn honor of Women’s History Month, Sen. Smith writes about five inspiring women from west-central Wisconsin.


MADISON - March is Women’s History Month, an opportunity to remind ourselves of the contributions of women that history books may often overlook. From my own experiences, the women in my life, including my wife, daughters, friends and relatives are almost always the most reliable, determined, innovative and trustworthy.

Some women stick out in Wisconsin history such as Ada Deer, Vel Phillips, Shirley Abrahamson or even Laura Ingalls Wilder, who was born in Pepin. But I’d like to focus on women from west-central Wisconsin who may not be as familiar, but who have significantly impacted the lives of others.

Betsy Thunder was born near Black River Falls in the 1850s. She was a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, also called the Winnebago Sky Clan. Known for her skills in medicinal remedies from roots and plants, Betsy treated both Ho-Chunk and white patients. She was credited with saving the life of a child of businessman and politician, Hugh Mills, who in turn built her a small cabin as a sign of appreciation. In the early 1900s, the US government ordered Thunder’s tribe to be moved from Wisconsin to Nebraska. Betsy, however, refused to leave and hid in the hills of Jackson County until her death in 1912.

Mountain Wolf Woman also resided on the land we recognize as Jackson County. She was born in 1884 into the Thunder Clan of the Ho-Chunk tribe. In 1958, she shared her life story as a Native American woman to a University of Wisconsin anthropologist. This autobiography was seen as an important point in Native American history as it was one of the earliest first-hand accounts of the experiences documented of a Native American woman. Her story detailed seventy-five years of Native American life and the role of women in native cultures.

Sarah Harder was born in 1937 in Chicago. She moved to La Crosse and started teaching later at UW-Eau Claire. She revolutionized the maternity leave program for the UW System and founded the women’s studies program at UW-Eau Claire. She is a strong activist for women’s rights and has been involved with many women’s organizations, serving as a founding member of the Wisconsin Women’s Network and President for the American Association of University Women.

Carol Bartz was born in 1948 in Minnesota and moved to Alma, Wisconsin at a young age. She earned a degree in computer science from UW-Madison in 1971. She worked at multiple companies and faced frequent gender discrimination. She persevered and was named CEO of Autodesk, Inc. Despite being diagnosed with breast cancer while at Autodesk, she increased the company’s revenue by hundreds of millions. She then became the CEO of Yahoo!, a Fortune 500 company, restructuring the organization to address discrimination in the workplace.

Ellen Kort was born in Glenwood City and lived in Menomonie. She wrote poetry throughout her whole life and was appointed as the state’s first poet laureate in 2000 by Governor Tommy Thompson. She shared her poetry widely; her words are inscribed in multiple buildings throughout Wisconsin. She received multiple awards for her poetry as well, including the Pablo Neruda Literary Prize for Poetry. She also helped survivors of AIDS, cancer, and domestic abuse heal through her writing workshops.

jeff-smithThe women I’ve spotlighted should serve as inspiration for all of us. They came from humble beginnings but were determined to achieve great success, despite facing adversity.

We can all learn and be inspired by the women who accomplished so much and are remembered in our history. Even more so, we can be inspired and motivated by the dedicated women we’re with day-to-day. Too often, women have to work twice as hard as men to earn the recognition they deserve. If more people recognize women’s contributions, I think we can reach a day when this is no longer the case; I look forward to this day.

Thank you to all the women I’ve had the pleasure to work with throughout my life for they have always inspired me and made me a better person.

***

Note: Information about the women mentioned in this column is attributed to the Wisconsin Women Making History partnership.

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Climate Change Solutions

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 March 2021
in Wisconsin

frac-sand-spill-apSen. Smith writes about the policies developed by the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change included in the budget, such as innovative flood mitigation strategies and proposals to help our farmers.


MADISON - We’re all familiar with Isaac Newton’s well-known law of physics that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Although specific to the science of physics, we can still apply the law’s same concept to many other aspects of our lives. We know our daily actions impact others. One person’s bad behavior has repercussions that can affect many others.

Climate change is a perfect example of Newton’s law playing out. Extreme weather events – caused by climate change – are a result of irresponsible decisions made by wealthy fossil fuel energy corporations. Today, these weather events are causing farmers to lose their livelihoods, displacing families from their homes and posing greater risks to all Wisconsinites’ health and public safety.

Despite the problems caused by some bad actors, I believe there are more citizens motivated to react to the climate change crisis and be a part of a solution to make our communities cleaner and safer. Following the logic of Newton’s law, we know the environmental sustainability efforts we take today will have far-reaching benefits for generations to come.

As a member of the Governor’s Climate Change Task Force, I’m proud to see the initiatives developed by the Task Force and included in Governor Tony Evers’ budget to respond to the climate crisis. We must act immediately and make the bold investments necessary to build more resilient communities. It’s our responsibility to ensure our state is livable for our children and grandchildren.

Governor Tony Evers established the Climate Change Task Force because he understands the importance of taking action on the climate crisis. Like so many other Wisconsinites, he knows that ignoring the problem will only make matters worse.

The Climate Change Task Force released the Task Force Report in December 2020. Task Force members developed the report after months of public hearings with a diverse group of stakeholders. The report includes fifty-five climate action solutions across nine different sectors, including agriculture, transportation, energy and education.

Governor Evers doubled down on his commitment to address the climate crisis by including thirty-five solutions from the Task Force report in his 2021-23 budget. His budget makes critical investments to mitigate the effects of climate change while also strengthening our rural communities.

flood-wi-roadThe Governor includes numerous policies in his budget aimed at preventing more extreme floods, which have become a growing problem here in western Wisconsin. He proposed creating a flood resilience plan, which would help restore historical wetlands in flood zones and regulate development on existing wetlands. Governor Evers’ budget invests more than $30 million to help build more resilient roads and infrastructure to prevent flooding disasters. The budget also includes an innovative first-of-its-kind program to help Wisconsinites purchase flood insurance.

jeff-smithFloods and other natural disasters caused by climate change have made it a lot harder for farmers to run their businesses. The Governor’s budget will help protect farmers from extreme weather events and give farmers tools to be a part of the solution. The budget establishes several grant programs to make it easier for farmers to transition to more environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. The Value-Added Agricultural Grant Program, specifically, provides education and technical assistance to produce value-added agricultural products, such as organic farming and best grazing practices.

The Task Force Report includes policies grounded in climate justice and equity. Climate change disproportionately impacts low-income families and communities of color. Governor Evers’ budget creates the Office of Environmental Justice to help design climate policies that reduce emissions and pollutants that typically target these marginalized groups. The budget also establishes a technical assistance grant program to assist municipalities and tribal nations in developing a plan to be carbon-free by 2050.

Despite the irresponsible mistakes of some bad actors, we have opportunities right here in Governor Evers’ budget to begin responding to the climate crisis. Our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are depending on us to act ambitiously today. The steps we take now will ensure they have a safer and healthier world to live in.

****

This is the second column in a two-part series about the climate change impact in Wisconsin.

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The Climate Change Problem

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 March 2021
in Wisconsin

flood-wi-fieldSen. Smith writes about the impact climate change is having on Wisconsin and, more specifically, our rural communities. This is the first in a two-part series about climate change.


MADISON - Cynicism runs rampant in our society and has very dangerous consequences. There are some indisputable facts that we all live with; for instance, we age every day, the earth revolves around the sun and we have 365 days in a year. We all experience this, so there shouldn’t be a debate.

So, why are there doubts about climate change? We experience more extreme weather events more often than ever before. We see it and we feel it. These changes affect our lives in many ways and raise questions about our future.

Governor Tony Evers recently appointed me to the Climate Change Task Force to replace recently-retired Sen. Mark Miller (D – Monona). The Task Force is made up of farmers, business leaders, conservationists, tribal leaders and a bipartisan group of state legislators. Since 2019, the Task Force learned how climate change is impacting Wisconsin. From personal experience and what I’ve learned so far from the Task Force, it’s clear we’re heading further down a dangerous road if we don’t act quickly and boldly enough on the impending climate crisis.

Many can point to the news of the California wildfires or the freezing temperatures in Texas as examples of climate change. But, there is an accelerating pattern of extreme weather events happening here in Wisconsin that calls on us to realize how serious we should be taking climate change.

Flooding, for example, has become much more frequent and destructive in western Wisconsin in recent years. Higher groundwater levels are a result of our climate’s rising temperatures. Rising temperatures in addition to increased rainfall contribute to these flooding disasters. Scientists expect temperatures to get warmer and rainfall events to increase, which will only make flooding more common and more severe in our rural communities.

Extreme weather events caused by climate change have significant economic and public health implications. In the last twenty years, weather disasters cost Wisconsin $100 billion in damages. According to the Wisconsin Hazard Mitigation, there is an estimated $40 billion worth of Wisconsin homes and businesses within a 100-year floodplain. Floods are known to ruin farmers’ livelihoods, displace families and create significant public safety hazards.

flooding-east-river-gb-wbayFloods are the deadliest natural disaster in the United States. Floods also pose dangerous long-term health repercussions. Floods carry contaminated groundwater from nearby CAFOs and expose households to mold contamination, which can lead to upper respiratory infections.

We’re seeing climate change in our own backyard, and yet many refuse to believe this reality. I believe those who perpetuate the “climate change is a hoax” myth are motivated by profit, especially the very wealthy fossil fuel energy corporations. They fear losing billions if we move toward making responsible, sustainable energy decisions.

jeff-smithIt reminds me of the way the tobacco industry paid their own researchers to lie about the fact that their products were killing people. It took decades for scientists and doctors to finally convince enough people that tobacco companies were lying about purposely adding addictive, carcinogenic ingredients just so they could get rich.

What could be the possible motive of climate research scientists who warn us about climate change? It isn’t profit. Our public universities, like the University of Wisconsin, house the foremost research facilities and experts in the world. Their motivations are purely professional and driven by science in their discipline. Whether they prove or disprove a theory doesn’t change their wealth or status in society. They’re motivated to make our world a better place.

According to NASA there’s consensus among scientists that climate change is the result of human behavior. Humans are responsible for deforestation and burning fossil fuels at an alarming rate, which have increased CO2 levels and made our planet warmer.

Humans have caused much of the problem, but we’re able to find solutions. It starts with admitting our problem and being accountable. Then it’s up to us to do our part. We must set aside the short-term need for profit and embrace the long-term need for survival.

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Building Momentum to Vaccinate More Wisconsinites

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 March 2021
in Wisconsin

covid-19-vaccination-65Sen. Smith writes about Governor Evers’ Administration’s ongoing efforts to get more Wisconsinites vaccinated.


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives in one way or another now for almost a year. It’s been a tough year for so many reasons; we’ve been disconnected from people in our lives, and sadly many Americans are burdened with grief over the loss of a loved one. In February, we surpassed a grim milestone that many of us never thought was possible just twelve months ago: 500,000 of our fellow Americans are dead from COVID-19.

The staggering number of lives lost to COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on our communities. Here in Wisconsin, we lost more than 6,000 of our neighbors and community members. In contrast to these tragic statistics, the number of vaccines administered thus far provides hope to ending this nightmare.

Last month, Governor Tony Evers announced Wisconsin administered more than one million vaccines since the state began receiving doses in December 2020. The vaccine is a critical tool in our fight against COVID-19. Fortunately, there’s been a downward trend in the number of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Wisconsin since the vaccine became available. Governor Evers’ Administration’s continued efforts in building statewide partnerships and developing public health infrastructure made this vaccine achievement possible.

Wisconsin is currently one of the top-ranked states for administering COVID-19 vaccines to eligible populations. In fact, vaccine providers in Wisconsin’s western region leads the state’s effort to vaccinate the public. More than 50% of Wisconsinites over the age of 65 have been vaccinated. This is incredible progress. As the Federal Drug Administration approves more vaccines and more doses become available, more eligible populations will be able to get vaccinated.

Last week, Governor Evers and the Department of Health Services announced new groups that are eligible to receive the vaccine. On March 1st, vaccine eligibility was extended to education and child care staff, some public-facing essential workers, and facility staff and residents in congregate living settings. The groups previously eligible for a vaccine – including frontline health care personnel, long-term care facility residents and adults sixty-five and older – will still be prioritized over this new group.

Now that more populations are becoming eligible to receive the vaccine, DHS launched a COVID-19 scheduling website on March 1st. This website will update residents for knowing when and where they can get vaccinated and how to schedule an appointment.

Last week, Governor Evers made an exciting announcement about the launch of four new community vaccination clinics in the state. Currently Wisconsin has one community vaccination clinic in Rock County to help get shots in people’s arms as quickly as possible. The new community vaccination clinics will be located in La Crosse, Racine, and Marathon Counties, with the last clinic split between Douglas and Barron Counties. These clinics are expected to open within the next two months.

jeff-smithWe’re all anxious to return to our normal lives; it may be frustrating when vaccines aren’t immediately available for everyone. It’s never easy to wait for something so life-changing, like the COVID-19 vaccine. But the only way to ensure safe and proper distribution is through an organized effort like we’re seeing. Imagine the chaos if it wasn’t organized. After all, the goal of vaccinating a nation is immense when you consider the manufacturing, distribution and scheduling of appointments for over 300 million citizens.

When you become eligible, make an appointment. I’m over the age of sixty-five and am scheduled to receive my second shot. But I know life will still not be back to normal until we reach herd immunity. We must still wear masks and follow other public health precautions so we limit our risk of infection and prevent the spread to others. Momentum is building and more vaccines are coming.

Sometimes it takes a calamity, like this pandemic, to make us stronger and pull us together. I appreciate all of you even more. I’ll be so happy to be close once again when we’re all safer thanks to the diligent work of the scientists and frontline healthcare workers who have come through for all of us.

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