Thursday December 1, 2022

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Continuous care benefits the health of our communities

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 October 2022
in Wisconsin

healthcare-family-drThe freeze on disenrolling patients from Medicaid will end when the federal public health emergency does. If you are a BadgerCare patient, it is important that you make sure your contact information is correct to ensure continued health coverage in the months to come.


MADISON - The events of the past several years have shown us again and again the importance of quality, affordable and accessible healthcare. In those first uncertain days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The law contained a “continuous care requirement,” offering expanded federal funding for Medicaid if states put a freeze on disenrolling Medicaid recipients for the duration of the public health emergency.

Since January 2020, the federal public health emergency has been renewed 11 times. Most recently, it was extended for an additional 90 days, now lasting through at least January 11th, 2023. The Department of Health has committed to giving the states 60 days’ notice at the time that they decide not to extend the public health emergency.

Still, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have begun warning states to prepare for an eventual return to pre-pandemic eligibility rules. States have 12 months following the declared end of the public health emergency to transition back to pre-pandemic operation, called “unwinding”.

coronavirus-nurse-tiredFor the past years, as we’ve endured a massive public health emergency, continuity of coverage helped to curtail the worst effects of the pandemic. When eligibility standards do return to pre-pandemic levels, the Department of Health estimates that up to 15 million Americans will be disenrolled between Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

While some will lose health insurance because they no longer qualify, the Department estimates that almost half of those that will lose health insurance will be disenrolled for purely procedural reasons. If you are covered through BadgerCare, check today to ensure that your contact information – address, phone number and email – are correct in the ACCESS web system so that the state can inform you of any changes to your coverage. You can check your current contact information here: https://access.wisconsin.gov/access/

BadgerCare recipients are required to report any changes to their income, assets, medical expenses, household size or new employment to the state within 10 days. These can also be reported in the ACCESS web system. Any changes you make will not impact your eligibility for BadgerCare until the end of the public health emergency, so do not worry that you will be disenrolled without warning.

After the public health emergency has ended, but before making any changes to your coverage, agency staff will ask for an update on your current situation. Ensure that your contact information is correct and sign up to receive emails and/or texts from BadgerCare to stay informed about the status of your eligibility.

Some of the changes we made to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic showed us ways we can provide better coverage for Wisconsinites going forward. In response to the successful utilization of telehealth programs to provide folks with coverage remotely, the Wisconsin Legislature recently passed legislation requiring Medicaid to cover telehealth procedures under certain circumstances.

Another opportunity to maximize our positive impact on healthcare outcomes is Medicaid expansion. While the majority of states have accepted Medicaid expansion, Wisconsin has not. A recent poll commissioned by the American Cancer Society found that 70% of Wisconsinites support expanding BadgerCare.

jeff-smithBy refusing Medicaid expansion, Wisconsin is turning down well over a billion dollars in federal funding. This funding would be a game changer in Wisconsin’s healthcare system, money that could be used to reimburse providers fairly and provide additional support for needy populations. I will continue to advocate as your State Senator for expanded access to healthcare for all, including continued investment in telehealth and Medicaid expansion.

The best way to reduce the spread of disease and ensure community health is to keep folks enrolled in health insurance. If you are covered by BadgerCare, please make sure that your information is correct, and check in with friends and family to make sure that they’re covered too. When a member of our community is able to access quality healthcare, it improves community health across the board.

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Hitting Pay Dirt in the Driftless Region

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, 19 October 2022
in Wisconsin

wi-driftless-regionWith our strong history of soil conservation, Wisconsin has many opportunities to fund innovative approaches to soil health, yielding dividends for our communities while ensuring the bounty of our lands for generations to come.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Recently in northern and western Wisconsin, farmer-led watershed councils came up with an innovative way to measure the soil health of their lands: the “Soil Your Undies” challenge.

Farmers across the region buried pairs of tighty-whities in the spring and let the soil decompose them for a couple of months to determine the potent power of their dirt.

As with any science, the ecology of soil is dependent on a huge range of factors. Maximizing yield while maintaining future productivity has been a primary focus of farmers and agricultural experts since early settlers first converted wilderness to farmland.

The history of soil science in Wisconsin is, well, old as dirt. The first-ever soil map made in the United States was drawn of Wisconsin back in 1882 by geologist T.C. Chamberlin. That map and the many to follow reflected Wisconsin’s incredible geological diversity and agricultural potential.

In the Driftless Region, the soil attracted farmers who saw the beauty and future in Wisconsin’s varied topography. They cleared, flattened and plowed ridgetops, setting livestock to graze on steep land which could not be leveled for planting.

These modifications to the land had lasting consequences. Annual yields of crops meant regular tilling, which broke up root structures and reduced water absorption and filtration. Topsoil washed down slopes and filled local waterways with sediment, carving deep and narrow channels where wide rivers once meandered lazily.

Starting in the 1930s new generations of farmers and ecologists grew increasingly concerned by the stark changes agricultural practices brought to the region. Brand-new agencies like the Soil Erosion Service pioneered early soil and water conservation practices such as runoff management. Their success paved the way for similar interventions across the country.

Many of these took place on the state and local level. In 1977 the Wisconsin legislature created the Farmland Preservation Program. This program created local resources to aid farmers in preserving farmland and provided tax relief for farmers participating in agricultural conservation practices.

Soon the federal government also got involved. Just eight years later in 1985, Congress passed the Conservation Resource Program (CRP) which allowed farmers to enroll their land for 10-15 years at a time while receiving annual rental payments to restore highly erodible cropland to permanent vegetation.

These sustainable practices pay off years down the road. A recent example comes from the aforementioned “Soil Your Undies” challenge. In Pierce County, a pair of underwear buried in a field that had been in CRP for nearly forty years decomposed to nothing but waistband after just two months.

As these programs demonstrated their efficacy, many additional state, local and federal programs emerged to further incentivize farmers to use regenerative practices on their lands. Increasingly, farmers who participated in such programs realized their ongoing benefits, and these interventions were more and more widely used.

jeff-smithI see a lot of room for further innovation. Wisconsin is poised to be a shining example of how to continue pioneering soil conservation interventions. One of these opportunities to tackle ecological problems in a holistic way is putting more carbon into our soils.

Last legislative session I introduced Senate Bill 776, creating a grant program for farmers who use certain sustainable practices. These included developing conservation management plans for capturing carbon in our soils and providing concrete ways for farmers to implement these practices.

Wisconsin must continue its investments in soil health. By working in partnership with farmers, conservationists and the community at large, we will ensure our soil continues to support us and our beautiful ecosystems for years and generations to come. And you don’t even have to bury your undies to appreciate it.

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Justice for Indigenous Communities

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 October 2022
in Wisconsin

hochunknation-membersThe third anniversary of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Wisconsin is an opportunity to celebrate and commit to the preservation of Indigenous American cultures.


BRUNSWICK, WI - In 2019 Governor Tony Evers declared the second Monday of October to be commemorated as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Wisconsin. On the third anniversary of this day, we should reflect on all we owe to the Indigenous communities that contribute so much to the state of Wisconsin.

Since the arrival of European settlers, American culture has portrayed Native individuals in derogatory ways. Despite many historic and modern-day challenges that Native Americans have faced, Indigenous communities have endured.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an opportunity for all Wisconsinites to recognize the rich ancestral history and cultural impact of First Nations peoples in our state, a history that so often goes unappreciated. Just as important, this day allows us time to contemplate our nation’s history when it comes to interactions between the United States government and sovereign tribal communities.

native-americanOne challenge facing Indigenous communities is language loss. The United Nations estimates that a language dies every two weeks, most of them Indigenous languages. Native American languages were critical for our Native American code talkers for the military in WWI and WWII. These language must be preserved as a testament to our diverse and rich culture.

In Wisconsin, our communities are taking action to prevent this loss. Last year, Ho-Chunk tribal officials partnered with the Wisconsin Library System to establish a collection of materials, including written, audio and visual materials, detailing the Ho-Chunk language.

Tribes are using language classes and even immersion programs to educate young tribal members in their ancestral languages. With resources like these, Native communities can educate new generations of speakers and ensure the survival of an important element of their cultural heritage.

While serving in the State Assembly I was proud to pass legislation to stop the dehumanizing practice of using caricatures of Indigenous people as mascots. In the intervening years, many schools have stopped using these mascots, but according to the Wisconsin Indian Education Association, some of these names remain in use in our schools. It’s past time for school districts to do the right thing and end the practice for good.

The number of Indigenous students in the UW system has fallen precipitously in the last decade. In response, I sponsored a bill to allow any member of a federally-recognized tribe in the United States to receive in-state tuition within the University of Wisconsin System. Drawing in Native students from across the nation strengthens the UW system, improves outcomes for Native communities across the country and attracts young professionals who can build a brighter future for our state.

jeff-smithI was honored to serve on the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force. I’m excited to see what recommendations are put forward in the final report this winter.

I look forward to partnering with tribal leaders and communities to continue this important work across our state and nation. We celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ day this week, but the work of honoring and preserving our Native communities is ongoing.

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Empowerment Over Shame for Mental Health Awareness

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 October 2022
in Wisconsin

counseling-servicesMany Wisconsinites are struggling with the negative effects of mental health challenges and accessing care. What can we do to increase the support we provide?


BRUNSWICK, WI - Since 1990, the first full week of October has been celebrated in the U.S. as Mental Illness Awareness Week. This year, the theme is “What I Wish I Had Known.” Advocates are encouraging people to share their experiences about things they wish they had known earlier in their path to healing.

While serving in the State Assembly in 2008, I was proud to pass the Mental Health Parity Bill, which required mental health treatment be covered by insurance. This was a good step forward for ensuring all Wisconsinites have access to mental health care, but shockingly little has been done since then.

Mental health struggles affect folks in every phase of life, from early childhood to old age. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mood disorders are the most common cause of hospitalization for all people in the U.S. under the age of 45, and mental illness and substance abuse disorders are involved in one out of every eight emergency room visits. One in six children between the ages of six and seventeen experience a mental health disorder each year, and heartbreakingly, suicide is the leading cause of death among ten through fourteen year olds.

Whether someone is born with a propensity toward mental illness or undergoes a traumatic event, they battle a negative stigma when they attempt to access care. A 2019 national poll from the American Psychiatric Association found that mental health stigma is still a major challenge in the workplace, with over half of workers concerned about discussing mental health issues at their jobs. More than one in three workers were concerned about retaliation if employers found out they sought medical attention.

Mental healthcare is just that – healthcare. Stigma continues to deter people from seeking life-saving care. Each of us can do our part to talk openly about mental health. Choosing empowerment over shame will save lives.

jeff-smithAs your State Senator, I’m here to listen. People share their joys and their grief with me because they want to make a difference in others’ lives. When neighbors use their advocacy skills, it helps legislators like me understand the concerns and needs of our community.

Access to care remains a top-concern for battling mental health throughout western Wisconsin. Rural areas in particular face challenges, from hiring shortages to transportation. Even before the onset of COVID-19, workforce shortages created significant mental health coverage gaps across the state.

The extended pandemic presented additional challenges to those seeking any kind of treatment, including mental and behavioral healthcare. Even when a patient can find a provider, it can sometimes be challenging to receive care. Telehealth was expanded during Governor Evers’ emergency declaration, but these measures were not made permanent.

sand-mining-wi-manThat’s a big problem. One in five adults and children reported that the pandemic had a significant negative effect on their mental health. Over half of adults in rural areas reported that the pandemic has affected their mental health, including two-thirds of farmers and farm workers.

In 2020, Congress designated a new free and confidential crisis lifeline accessible by dialing 988. The crisis line is accessible by phone call or text, and there is an online chat feature at www.988lifeline.org. Those who reach out will have access to support center staff, counselors trained to reduce stress, emotional support and connections with local resources.

We can do our part to reduce the negative effects of mental illness in Wisconsin by funding programs that support those struggling with mental health issues. Governor Evers has included many of these priorities in his budget proposals over the last several years, with increased investment in telehealth, mental health support in schools, state treatment facilities and crisis intervention services. The legislature can support these initiatives by fully funding the Governor’s priorities in the next budget.

Ensuring that all Wisconsinites have access to quality mental and behavioral healthcare erases the stigma for all of us. Treating the whole patient, physically and mentally should be our number-one goal. If you are struggling with mental health concerns, please reach out. You are not alone, and your story matters.

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Protecting Our Watersheds for a Better Future

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 September 2022
in Wisconsin

wetlands-wiOur rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands can only sustain us if we remain committed to caring for them. Jeff Smith writes about our connection to water sources here in Wisconsin.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Since humans have inhabited the Great Lakes region, waterways have been an integral part of travel, trade, farming and culture. Our shallow lakes supplied First Nations people with the wild rice that played an essential role in their culture and diet. Rivers provided a travel route for diplomacy and trade among cultures, allowing for the transportation of fur, timber and trade goods. Streams and wetlands provided homes to an amazing variety of plants and wildlife.

This month, the River Falls Preservation Committee is hosting a traveling exhibit from the Wisconsin Historical Society. The exhibit, entitled “Great Lakes Small Streams: How Water Shapes Wisconsin”, is geared towards adults and secondary school students, and will be housed in various locations until October 29th (see below for details).

Wisconsin boasts plentiful groundwater and a great expanse of surface water, from the lakes Michigan and Superior to the Mississippi river and the network of rivers, streams, wetlands and lakes in between. The U.S. Geological Service estimates fifteen percent of Wisconsin is covered by groundwater, the fourth highest by area in the United States.

lake-michigan-shoreWe cannot take this resource for granted. Our rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands can only sustain us if we remain committed to caring for them.

Climate change has taken its toll nationwide, as we see in headlines daily. As drought conditions ravage the American West, I have gained a renewed appreciation for all our water continues to do for us in Wisconsin. Not only does water hydrate us, it also sustains wildlife, fosters our recreation economy, generates energy and waters our crops and livestock.

kewaunee-harbor-familyWisconsin has historically been a leader in pioneering conservation practices. In the early 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built an erosion control demonstration in the Coon Creek Watershed that proved to be wildly successful and served as an example nationwide. Conservationists used measures such as terracing to shore up land and reduce the soil erosion that was obstructing the area’s rivers and streams.

Early land surveyors in Wisconsin mapped around five million acres of wetland statewide. The development of Wisconsin’s agricultural economy spurred settlers to drain much of these wetlands, driving wildlife from their habitat and opening land up to rapid erosion.  Since that time, local water conservation departments as well as private groups work hard to restore these habitats, essential to the survival of so many of our native species.

Our water sustains a broad variety of wildlife throughout the state. The Wisconsin Wetlands Association estimates 75 percent of Wisconsin’s wildlife depend on wetlands at some point in their lives, and 30 percent of Wisconsin’s rare, endangered and threatened species depend on wetlands for survival.

Not only do healthy rivers provide opportunities for recreation, they also play an important role in regulating ecosystems. This week, I’ll be touring some of our local trout streams. Local conservation groups continue to do an amazing job restoring habitats, benefiting not only trout but whole ecosystems.

Water has been a big part of Wisconsin’s renewable energy efforts. According to the Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin has over 120 hydroelectric dams. Hydropower was Wisconsin’s first renewable energy resource, stretching all the way back to 1882, when the world’s first hydroelectric power plant was built on the Fox River in Appleton.

jeff-smithFor all these reasons and more, it is essential to Wisconsin’s future prosperity that we retain our strong connection to our water and all it provides to us. I encourage you to get outside this fall and appreciate how blessed we are with an abundance of water.

The exhibit will be on display in the City Hall Atrium during business hours through Sept. 16th and at the River Falls Bacon Bash from 10-4 on Sept. 17th, also in the City Hall Atrium. Resources for teachers and more information on other locations/times available here: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Event/EV8679

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