Wednesday August 12, 2020

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Legislature Must Act for Unemployed

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 05 August 2020
in Wisconsin

unemloyment-lines-covid19-bgThe COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us out of work and policy decisions made in more normal times have made it difficult for Wisconsinites to get the help they need now. The legislature must meet to get us through this difficult time.

MADISON - “I’ve been working my whole life, and was doing fine before COVID-19, and now suddenly, I can’t work, and can’t get unemployment. I’m scared of what life will be like in a few weeks when I run out of money for food, let alone bills,” said a man whose unemployment benefits were delayed 10 weeks.

He was one of the hundreds of constituents we’ve helped over the last 4 months. His Unemployment Insurance (UI) was held up because the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) needed to investigate his previous employment.

UI was created so anyone who lost their income would have something to fall back on. As a society, we’ve learned we’re better off if we have insurance programs to support families during tough times. Our economy and family lives are better when unemployment payments can prevent evictions, provide food and supplement lost wages.

/unemployment-lines-hialeah-flWe must always remember the intent of these essential programs. There will always be detractors, but also opportunities to improve. In the past 10 years, detractors got their way by changing the unemployment insurance to a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy. They claimed abuses of the system but forget about people who really need a smooth-running system to help them through what is normally a bump in the road.

For over a decade, Republicans knew DWD’s software and computer system wasn’t prepared for a flood of UI requests, but DWD’s warnings went unheeded by our Joint Committee on Finance. Wisconsin was left with a 40-year-old phone system and software that requires retired technicians to perform maintenance because it is so outdated.

My office, like many others, have become mediators for constituents who’ve had difficulty contacting DWD or have waited an inordinate amount of time for their case to be resolved. With the enormous surge of claims, people have waited up to 15 weeks to receive resolution and payments they desperately need to pay rent, buy food, pay for utilities and afford other vital needs.

One of the changes made by Republicans prevented people who received Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) from receiving unemployment. This resulted in one of my constituents, who is blind, unable to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, even though she worked part-time to supplement the meager SSDI payment she receives due to her disability.

A young, fresh-out-of-high-school worker was let go by his previous employer and found a new job. Due to suitability determinations created by Republicans, his unemployment claim was stuck for weeks in adjudication.

DWD must verify workers’ job history to determine their benefits. Complex cases make the hurdles even greater for DWD to pay out UI. A woman from the district was undergoing cancer treatments. A week or two into the pandemic she was scheduled to go back to work. Her short term disability payments forced her UI claims to be held up in adjudication for verification, which resulted in all her payments being delayed months.

These are just a handful of examples of the hundreds of constituent cases my office has worked on in the past 4 months. Much of the delay and trauma in UI cases could be resolved if the legislature acted. We’ve been on hold for over 100 days because Majority Party leaders are unwilling to bring us together before the November election.

jeff-smithMy colleagues and I introduced bills to motivate the Republican leaders to fix the delays in UI claims, but no response. They are more interested in running for reelection than helping unemployed workers.

Many people have never needed to navigate the UI system before but found themselves trying to figure it all out for the first time. Some may have wondered if UI was ever really needed. This pandemic has clearly shown UI matters and so do the details.

An old neglected system, additional hurdles imposed by Republicans in the last 10 years and their reluctance to address the unemployment crisis have left Wisconsin workers without answers. We can do better, but we have to work together to get the job done and help Wisconsin get through this difficult time.

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Erpenbach on GOP Emergency Session

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Saturday, 01 August 2020
in Wisconsin

coronavirus-mask934 people have lost their lives in Wisconsin and 96% of our state’s population lives in a place with a high level of COVID-19. Blocking real public health plans to keep us safe is reckless.

WEST POINT, WI - People have been struggling to navigate a UI System filled with barriers created by Senator Fitzgerald and his caucus. The pleas for social justice and safe elections have been ringing across the state for months. And yet, the only time we rush back to the floor is to restrict the Governor’s ability to respond to this pandemic.

jon-erpenbachAnd I’m not buying the ‘freedom’ argument or ‘it’s my body and my choice’ argument either. Voting rights have been eroded from people of color, and women have been losing their ability to make their own healthcare decisions for years now.

Almost 600 people have lost their lives in Wisconsin and 96% of our state’s population lives in a place with a high level of COVID-19. Saying no is an easy thing to do. But not having a plan to keep Wisconsinites safe during a pandemic is reckless.

As we’ve seen before, the GOP has NO PLAN for this pandemic, only to say ‘NO’ to the one thing we know will keep Wisconsinites safe.

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Fitzgerald Decision to Overturn Governor’s Mask Order Just More Politics

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30 has not set their biography yet
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on Saturday, 01 August 2020
in Wisconsin

covid-19-protest-madisonSenate Republican move to overturn Governor’s order requiring people to wear masks in public is simply pandering for votes and power, ignores public health.

GREEN BAY, WI - In what is no surprise, Senate Republicans wasted no time announcing their intent to overturn Governor Ever’s Executive order requiring people to wear masks in public along with his earlier order that could result in the National Guard no longer being able to help with virus testing or assisting poll workers in providing safety at the polls for voters this fall.

dave-hansen-gbSince the Republicans came to power under Scott Walker their only concern has been protecting their own hold on power. This has come to include attacking Governor Evers at all costs even if it costs the lives of their own constituents.

Since we met in March the Republicans ignored doing anything to protect the people from this deadly virus or to remove the barriers that have led to delays in processing unemployment claims. Apparently the only thing that can get them to bring the Senate back into session is an opportunity to take another partisan shot at Governor Evers.

This is just one in a continuing list of examples for why non-partisan redistricting is so badly needed.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - Trump’s Move Backfires

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Saturday, 01 August 2020
in Wisconsin

portland-fed-force-2020MADISON - You might have thought I was being a bit on the hysterical side last week when I wrote to you about the risk of Donald Trump imposing martial law. But there he was this week tweeting about postponing the election!

Fortunately, this move backfired, as he was met with near universal condemnation, including from Republican elected officials (even in Wisconsin!).

We at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign signed on to a letter denouncing this reckless move, which you can read here.

Meanwhile, this week we kept doing what we do, day in and day out: Exposing money in Wisconsin politics.

matt-rothschildBefore I came to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, I didn’t even know what Legislative Campaign Committees are. But I soon found out: They’re the treasure chests that the Speaker, the Senate Majority Leader, and the two minority leaders have at their disposal for elections.

This year, these campaign committees raised record amounts, with the Republicans way ahead, as you’ll see here:

Legislative Fundraising Committees Raise Record Cash

In a related post, we discussed another record that was broken: fundraising by all the legislative candidates. Speaker Vos, for his personal campaign, led the way with $355,000 on hand. Add that to the $2,371,000 he controls as head of the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, and you can see why he’s so powerful. You can find all the details here:

Legislative Donors Undaunted by Pandemic

And here’s some good news! The Marathon County Board this week passed a resolution in favor of independent, nonpartisan redistricting. That makes 52 counties out of the 72 in Wisconsin that have passed board resolutions to ban gerrymandering. Also this week, the Bayfield County Board voted to let the citizenry weigh in on this issue on November 3 with an advisory referendum. That makes 10 county referendums coming up: Adams, Bayfield, Brown, Crawford, Door, Dunn, Iowa, Jefferson, Kenosha, and Rusk.

Thanks to all the amazing grassroots activists who are making this happen!

I hope you have a nice weekend.


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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Questions Remain Unanswered for Schools

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, 29 July 2020
in Wisconsin

schools-reopening-2020-cnnWith the COVID-19 pandemic spreading, school districts are wrestling with questions to safely bring students back this fall. Schools need answers fast for educating students, supporting teachers and helping parents stay employed.

MADISON - The first day of school has always been an exciting time for children. About this time of year, heading into August, families begin to plan their schedule and stock up on school supplies. For some it might mean new supplies or even new clothes. Kids want to make a good impression that first day and parents want a routine in their busy life.

That was then, and this is now.

Since school buildings closed last spring to protect families from the spread of COVID-19, schools districts have been figuring out the best way to educate our children while keeping them safe. Of course, that was always the objective, but now we’re facing new challenges and school districts are forced to look at this school year through a different lens.

In March, school buildings closed because the COVID-19 epidemic was just beginning in Wisconsin. Now, at a time when many districts are preparing for the students’ return, the crisis only seems to be getting worse in the state. Balancing physical and mental health concerns can always be tricky, but now the public health pandemic presents a difficult element for balancing mental and physical health needs for children.

We also have to consider an economy that has taken a severe hit. Parents are struggling to make ends meet and they are concerned their kids’ education may fall behind. Families want normalcy; parents want to go back to work and kids want to go back to school, but many questions have to be answered before we can get there.

reading-bookDuring these past several months, we’ve been encouraged to stay safer at home so we don’t inadvertently contract the virus and spread it to others. Now, many are demanding children return back to the classroom. What will a classroom look like this fall? It’s clear that schools have a responsibility to keep children at least 6 feet apart whenever possible, which means smaller class sizes spread out in the room. Public health experts have also made it exceedingly clear that the best weapon we have to slow the spread is wearing a mask, but I think many parents know all too well how difficult this will be for young children.

Starting this new school year, how do we transport kids to school in buses that are typically packed shoulder to shoulder? School districts will have to get creative in spreading kids out in buses and covering the additional costs, or leave it to the parents to drive their kids to school themselves.

There’s no doubt in my mind that our teachers love what they do and love their students. They always put their best foot forward and place the students’ interests above their own. But, this decision whether to open schools has caused quite a dilemma for teachers who will soon be in classrooms with multiple children who may very well bring the virus without realizing it. What happens if a teacher becomes sick? What does that mean for their family?

jeff-smithDo we test each child and teacher every day? What happens when (not if) the first case of COVID-19 shows up in the school? Will everyone be placed in quarantine? Does this mean the end of in-person learning? What does this mean for parents who are trying to go to work with a COVID-19 positive child? Who would be held responsible for spreading the virus at the school?

There are so many questions to consider when thinking of children returning to school.

More than 100 days have passed since we passed the COVID-19 relief bill. Unfortunately, the Majority Party has been silent on meeting again to take up legislation to fix the unemployment crisis and any bills aimed at helping our public schools educate our children during this difficult time.

Our public schools have always been the center of our communities, something our communities take a lot of pride in. If we as a community want our schools open again, then we all need to step up. We must take responsibility and take care of each other through this. That means caring enough to wear a mask, social distance and look out for our neighbors and our children.

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