Thursday February 2, 2023

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Building Strong Local Economies, One Small Business At A Time

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, 30 November 2022
in Wisconsin

business-small-openSenator Smith writes about his experience as a business owner, the importance of shopping local for the holiday season, and Wisconsin’s work to lead the nation for utilizing federal relief funds to support small businesses.


BRUNSWICK, WI - I guess you can call me a professional window shopper. For years I worked alongside my father, who founded our window cleaning company in 1954. One of the highlights for me was cleaning storefront windows. It was wonderful to see the unique displays and the twinkling, inviting lights, especially during the holidays.

Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, and I believe the strongest economic driver for local communities is entrepreneurship. One of the highlights of my time in the State Senate has been working with local business owners throughout the 31st Senate District.

Over the last couple of decades, we’ve seen an amazing resurgence in small home-grown businesses. Flourishing main streets that had once been written off are revitalizing, with people walking the sidewalks, enjoying the day and invigorating the local economy.

businesses-micro-ethnically-diverseThe owners of our local businesses deserve our support so they can continue to contribute to the quality of life in our neighborhoods. The COVID-19 pandemic was hard on our small businesses, and their continued success is crucial to not only our economic recovery but also to the character and uniqueness of our region.

In the wake of the pandemic, Governor Evers and his administration did a great job providing support to small businesses with a multifaceted approach focused on aiding local mom-and-pop shops. In fact, Governor Evers used more of Wisconsin’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for business support after the pandemic than any other state according to the Center on Budget Relief and Policy Priorities. From investing in infrastructure to distributing grants directly to small businesses, these investments enabled Wisconsin’s economy to come back stronger as we venture out into a post-pandemic world.

We can and should continue this work by supporting infrastructure improvements to make it easier to succeed as a small business in our rural areas. Investments like broadband and road repair provide continuing benefits that help existing business owners and encourage others to pursue their dreams of starting their own companies.

Every year around the holidays, I encourage folks to shop at our local businesses. It’s a nice feeling to know that your dollars are staying here in western Wisconsin, supporting the shops and restaurants that are owned by your hardworking neighbors and their families.

Whether it’s a charming boutique or a unique local restaurant, our communities’ small businesses provide our main streets with a character and charm that can’t be found at chain retailers and shopping malls. When you’re shopping for singular gifts, you can’t beat the handmade jewelry, artwork and home goods that are produced right here in western Wisconsin.

For loved ones that prefer experiences to physical gifts, it’s never been easier to pick up gift cards to local restaurants, breweries and wineries. It’s not just your corner tavern anymore – an increasing amount of microbreweries and local wineries have found success in our part of the state. Encouraging your friends and family to treat themselves can sometimes be the greatest gift of all.

jeff-smithAs someone who worked, managed and owned a small business for most of my life, I can tell you the work is hard, but the reward is great. Small businesses develop the neighborhoods they serve and help folks form lasting bonds. Many of my lifelong friendships grew out of relationships with coworkers and clients. That’s the spirit of local business.

You can share in that special feeling when you visit local businesses in your community. Take your time to get to know the people who work there. Listen to their stories. It’s worth it, and you’ll come away with a new appreciation of the vibrancy and resiliency of your neighbors.

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Giving thanks for pro-democracy prospects here in Wis.

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 26 November 2022
in Wisconsin

thanksgiving-family-dinnerMatt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is thankful for 3 things in 2022 as far as the pro-democracy prospects go here in Wisconsin.


MADISON - On this Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve got three things to be thankful for, as far as the pro-democracy prospects go here in Wisconsin.

First, I’m thankful that Gov. Evers is still our governor, and that his veto pen still works. Robin Vos’s veto-proof majority failed to materialize in the Assembly, so Evers can still do what he does best: Blocking bills that would curb our freedom to vote, or blocking bills that would destroy our public schools, or damage our public lands, or deprive women of their most basic freedom to make their own decisions regarding their health care.

Second, I’m thankful for Law Forward, the great pro-democracy law firm that’s been around for a just a couple years but is already changing the legal landscape in Wisconsin in our favor. This group, founded by Jeff Mandell and Doug Poland and initially just with the amazing Mel Barnes as staff counsel, acts not only as a much-needed counterweight to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. It also pushes for fair maps, defends our freedom to vote, and demands accountability for those who violate our democracy. More than any other group in Wisconsin, Law Forward has demanded that the false electors in Wisconsin be investigated, and the firm has filed a civil suit against them, as well -- the first of its kind in the nation.

And third, I’m thankful for Civic Media, the new progressive radio network that is buying up stations all across Wisconsin not only to counter the dominance of rightwing radio but also to build civil dialogue at the local level, both of which we’ve been desperately needing. Growing out of “Devil Radio,” the flagship station in Madison founded by the irrepressible Michael Crute, it is now expanding rapidly, with the vision and resources of Sage Weil. Now with stations not only in Madison and Waukesha, but also in Amery, Richland Center, Wisconsin Rapids, and Wausau, with more to come, Civic Media is changing the sound of talk radio in Wisconsin, and it’s changing the politics of our state for the better.

So I’m thankful, this Thanksgiving weekend, and I hope you are, too.


matt-rothschild-2018Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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New Energy Efficiency Incentives Abound

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, 23 November 2022
in Wisconsin

wi-farm-winterAs the weather gets colder, heating costs are rising. Sen. Smith writes about the many state and federal programs that are in place to help Wisconsin residents with heating bills and energy efficiency improvements.


BRUNSWICK, WI - This time of the year leaves most of us dreading to see our heating bills, but this year we have new options to afford our bills and better incentives to make home improvements that will lower our bills going forward.

Last month the U.S. Energy Information Administration released an important warning about higher than expected energy costs this winter. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) forecasts temperatures this winter to be colder than last winter, which will contribute to heating fuel consumption and demand.

In the Midwest, where well over half of households use natural gas to heat their home, costs are estimated to increase by 33%. For electricity, the increase in cost is somewhat less, but still significant, projected at around 10%. WEC Energy Group released an estimate that electric heating prices per household may go up an average of $20 to $30 a month.

home_heatingEstablished by the federal government in 1991, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) annually helps many families afford the cost of heating their home throughout the winter. LIHEAP helped more people than it ever had during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when compared to need, the program is incredibly underfunded. LIHEAP estimates the program is only able to help one out of every six eligible households, leaving many families to find support on their own.

President Biden recently announced an additional investment of $4.5 billion through LIHEAP to help Americans with home heating costs. This comes about a month after Governor Tony Evers announced $13.6 million in funding to Wisconsin’s division of the program, WHEAP. This additional funding will absorb rising prices and rate hikes and help more families keep the heat on this winter.

As a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, I have been serious about incorporating energy efficiency, reducing energy use and finding renewable solutions. Every decision we make for climate change today will save Wisconsin families money down the road. We’ve got to take a diversified approach to tackling climate change and think outside the box for ways we can maximize our energy use and resources.

This winter, consider taking steps to make your home more efficient. In addition to the Biden administration’s LIHEAP funding, the U.S. Department of Energy announced they would allocate an additional $9 billion in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to support 1.6 million households nationwide to upgrade their homes and decrease energy bills.

Wisconsin’s version of the energy efficiency assistance program is called the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). WAP can help low-income property owners improve energy efficiency and cut down on heating costs. Improvements such as improving insulation, sealing air leaks, installing energy-saving technology devices and repairing or replacing inefficient appliances can dramatically lower energy costs.

jeff-smithThe State of Wisconsin Division of Energy, Housing and Community Resources has a handy map to help you find resources for heating assistance in your county, whether you’re looking for payment relief or assistance to finance energy-efficiency improvements for your home: https://energyandhousing.wi.gov/Pages/Home.aspx. There you can find links to the online application portals for heating and rental assistance programs, as well as contact numbers for the WHEAP and weatherization agencies for each county.

Please check out these resources and learn more about how each of us can do our part to consume less energy while also saving money. An ounce of prevention now using these incredible incentives is worth a pound of cure when this time of year comes around again.

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Our Enduring Responsibility: To Support and Honor Wisconsin’s Veterans

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, 16 November 2022
in Wisconsin

veterans-vietnam-foxLast Friday, November 11, we celebrated Veterans Day. This week, Senator Smith writes about our continuing responsibility to provide support to our veterans and the gratitude we owe them for their honorable service.


MADISON - Last Friday, November 11, we celebrated Veterans Day. The theme for this year’s celebration was honor. The commitment to our country that our veterans have shown by remaining steadfast in the face of peril is one of the truest forms of honor.

Wisconsin is home to over 300,000 veterans, comprising 7.4 percent of the adult population. From Revolutionary soldiers at the very birth of our nation to modern-day soldiers protecting us abroad, our state and our nation owe the utmost respect and gratitude for those who have served and the families that supported them.

Veterans make many sacrifices to preserve our freedom as Americans. Our veterans deserve recognition for their commitment to putting our country ahead of themselves. More importantly, our veterans deserve assurance that the country they served will be there to offer support if and when they need it.

veterans-memorial-day-2020We ask a lot of our service members. It is critical that we address the immediate needs of veterans and their families. These include support for physical and mental health services, education programs, career and job placement assistance, as well as addressing housing insecurity and substance abuse initiatives.

Veterans often face unique challenges affecting their mental, emotional and physical health after completing their service. Many returning veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and substance abuse, and are more likely to die by suicide. According to the census, over 20 percent of Wisconsin’s veterans have a service-connected disability.

The COVID-19 pandemic created staffing shortages throughout our healthcare system, and long-term care facilities for veterans were particularly impacted by this shortage. Rural areas, which often have more limited mental health services, were also disproportionately impacted.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, 67 percent of Wisconsin’s veterans live in rural areas, with long distances to travel to access Veterans Affairs (VA) resources. Since 2006, the Department of Veterans Affairs has administered the Office of Rural Health, established to address the unique issues faced by veterans in rural areas when it comes to accessing healthcare.

vets-gi-billTelehealth expansion took off dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing to support telehealth programs will undoubtedly increase health care access for underserved communities. As I discussed in last week’s column, broadband access remains an issue in many rural areas of Wisconsin, therefore limiting telehealth’s adoption. At a recent VA mental health summit, VA psychiatrist Michael McBride estimated that roughly 30 percent of veterans who live in rural areas lack access to the Internet. Telehealth appointments that can reach rural veterans hinge on broadband expansion to these areas.

This year, the Department of Health and Human Services debuted the 9-8-8 crisis line, designed to provide support for people experiencing mental health crises. You can dial “1” from the main menu to immediately access mental health resources for veterans.

For some veterans, mental health struggles have led to substance abuse, financial instability and in some cases homelessness. According to the Housing Assistance Council, at least 300 Wisconsin veterans are experiencing homelessness. The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs administers the Veterans Housing and Recovery Program, which provides temporary housing and supportive services to veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

jeff-smithIt is important to acknowledge your own family members who served. My father’s WWII Navy uniform hangs in my Senate office. He passed away recently, but his service uniform reminds me of the selfless service our veterans endure and how they proudly commit themselves to our country and way of life. I know that many families have similar stories. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is collecting stories of Wisconsin veterans. You can submit photos and stories of veterans in your family here: https://wisvetsmuseum.com/about-wisconsin-veterans-museum/veterans-profile-submission/

It’s our continuing responsibility to support our brave veterans who truly exemplify the meaning of public service. Let’s ensure that we maintain what we have while we find new ways to support veterans’ physical, mental and financial well-being.

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Gerrymandering and the 2022 Election in Wisconsin

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 15 November 2022
in Wisconsin

gerrymander-elections-redistrictingMADISON - In Wisconsin’s recent elections, we saw the ugly results of gerrymandering.

Gov. Evers won by 90,000 votes but still the Republicans gained more seats in the Legislature, coming within a whisker of a veto-proof majority.

And it’s not just because Democrats congregate in Milwaukee and Dane County, like Republicans like to claim.

Take a look at the Evers victory map. He won up in the northwest, taking Douglas, Bayfield, and Ashland counties by about 57 percent each.

And guess what? Those Democratic voters of Douglas, Bayfield, and Ashland counties now have zero representation in the State Legislature.

No State Senator, no Assembly person.

Why?

Because Robin Vos drew the maps not to abide by the county lines but to distort the districts by bringing in Republican voters from nearby red counties.

When he testified about the maps last fall, Vos admitted he “used partisanship” in drawing them. Basically, he confessed to the crime of gerrymandering.

But he bragged that it was legal, so we got to make it illegal.

matt-rothschildThere’s a huge grassroots effort in Wisconsin to ban gerrymandering. Already, 56 of our 72 counties have passed resolutions and referendums urging the Legislature to outlaw it.

And there’s a huge Wisconsin Supreme Court race coming up in April that will determine the ideological balance of the court. If a justice is elected who believes that gerrymandering undermines the will of the people, as guaranteed in our Wisconsin Constitution, then it’s possible that the Court could ban it.

Please go to fairmapswi.com to follow this issue and to see how you can help.

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