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COVID-19 Update

Dear Neighbor,

In order to support your families being able to take a deep breath, turn away from constant news updates, and create a new temporary normal, my office will continue sending a daily COVID-19 update and will post online on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

It is my hope that one reliable update each day will allow you to take a deep breath, oversee all that is happening in your own life and home, and have a reliable source of news you can count on to be up to date and accurate. As always, previous updates are on our website and linked beneath the graphic below. 

My greatest concerns right now are your lives and livelihoods. We are working hard to keep you and your loved ones safe, and to fight for our small businesses in an unprecedented crisis. 

In solidarity,

Rep. Robyn Vining 

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Past email updates can be found HERE

 Small Business Webinar & Follow Up
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It’s time for all hands on deck for Wisconsin small business owners!

This morning, I hosted a small business webinar with Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, SBA Wisconsin Director Eric Ness, and SBA Economic Development Specialist Patty Pettey to share financial tools and resources from the state and federal level in response to COVID-19 for Wisconsin small businesses.

In case you missed it, you can watch a recording of the webinar and find resources here: 

We also created a document to help answer questions that were not addressed during the webinar, which can be found HERE

 Milwaukee Brew City Match

The webinar from last Friday from the City of Milwaukee's Office of Small Business Development provided information about new grant and loan programs for businesses within the Brew City Match area program area. Learn more about these programs HERE.

Updates from Gov. Evers

On March 30th, Gov. Evers announced a new public-private partnership among Wisconsin industry leaders to increase Wisconsin's laboratory testing capacity for COVID-19. The new partnership now includes laboratory support from Exact Sciences, Marshfield Clinic Health System, Promega, and UW Health. These organizations, along with the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network, will now share knowledge, resources, and technology to bolster Wisconsin’s testing capacity. The Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network labs have been averaging completion of 1,500-2,000 COVID-19 tests per day. The expanded capacity from the state’s new public-private partnership is expected to double that capacity initially and continue to expand as additional platforms and supplies become available. Residents who are seeking a COVID-19 test are still required to receive an order from a doctor. These labs are not testing sites.

Gov. Evers is continuing to work with Wisconsin’s federal delegation on obtaining these additional supplies as requested from FEMA. On March 30th, U.S. Sen. Baldwin sent a letter signed by the entire Wisconsin congressional delegation advocating asking for expedited processing of Wisconsin’s requests. A copy of the letter can be found here.

Governor Evers issued an emergency order suspending several administrative rules for the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) to help reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 while maintaining critical services the agency provides. The order can be found here

Gov. Evers today sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting that the president issue a major disaster declaration for the entire state of Wisconsin, as a result the COVID-19 pandemic. More information can be found here

Gov. Evers announceed today the opening of state-operated voluntary isolation Facilities and guidance to aid local communities in opening their own more information can be found here

Department of Health Services

DHS released new telehealth guidance today. This update announces that Medicaid will temporarily cover all currently covered services to be provided via telehealth using real-time technology as long as the service can be delivered with functional equivalence to the face-to-face service.    

Department of Workforce Development

Here is a detailed update on specific issues related to Unemployment Insurance (UI) from DWD:

Initial Claims

Wisconsin has experienced unprecedented numbers of UI claims filed in recent weeks. From Sunday, March 15, when we began to see the effects of Governor Evers' declared public health emergency, to yesterday, March 30, 222,271 initial claims for benefits were filed. During the same period last year, we had 12,982. For context, the 115,679 new applications filed last week was more than twice the amount than any week during the Great Recession.

For the latest daily claim filing numbers, you may visit our newly created webpage here.

Applying online

Applying online remains the most efficient method of application. Over 99% of the people who have applied during that time frame have been able to successfully start, complete, and file their claim for unemployment benefits. Make the first attempt to file online if at all possible here so that the phone lines are open for people who have been specifically instructed to call DWD or for those people who do not have access to a computer or internet.

Call Volume

Last week, the UI Division received more than 1.5 million calls, an increase of 6,208% over last year's busiest weekly call volume. Last Thursday alone, UI received 400,000 calls between 6 and 10 a.m., at times receiving 160 calls per second. The unprecedented number of calls overloaded the system, as it was not built to handle this type of call volume. They have since increased their phone capacity to allow 690 simultaneous calls.

Even with that technological improvement and the increased call center staffing and modified call-in requirements, it is likely that callers will still experience long wait times. They respectfully ask for continued patience and understanding as they try to manage this historic call volume. 

System Efficiencies

As of last Friday, applicants will be notified that DWD staff will call them back within three business days to assist them in completing the claim. They have assigned eight claims specialists the job of making these calls.

Other steps they have taken to reduce the need for claimants to call include the following:

  • Cleared approximately 430,000 usernames that were created between 2012-2016, reducing confusion for claimants who forgot they had usernames from years ago and reducing calls to the IT Solutions Center. 
  • Updated their system so that claimants can change their last name using the online Initial Claim or the stand-alone application in our claimant portal, eliminating the need to call a claims specialist to do this for them.
  • Updated videos on "How to Apply for Unemployment," "How to File Weekly Claims," and "How to Create a Username and Password" to reflect the current processes, adding information that has changed due to COVID-19.
  • Modified their policies and programming to allow claimants to back-date initial claims on the internet two weeks without creating an issue. Previously, they were required to do this within the first week.
  • Modified their policies and programming to allow claimants up to 28 days to complete an initial application. Previously, if a claimant started an initial application and was directed to contact DWD or got stuck and needed assistance, they had only 14 days to do so before the system would erase their information. 
  • Created and updated online FAQs for claimants and employers about the eligibility and application process.
  • Developed pop-up messages on the website that feature the most pertinent information people need to know.

Staffing Levels

Even with these system improvements, the historic number of first-time filers are overwhelming their Help Center. The current staff are working overtime and are working to bring on additional staff to address the load. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, their UI call center consisted of 57 employees. The UI Division has since reassigned another 35 its employees to the call center and has reached out to former employees to see if any are interested in helping. Yesterday, they trained another 40 staff from the Division of Employment and Training to answer phones, help with general inquiries, and take initial and weekly claims from people unable to use the internet. they are in the process of identifying an additional 80 staff from DWD and other state agencies to answer calls, respond to claimant emails, and process paperwork and system rejects. They also put out a recruitment to hire 36 claim specialists and have already received over 500 applications. They are grateful for the response, but understand that the onboarding will take approximately six weeks.

Federal Legislation and the Waiting Week

Congress has passed three COVID-19 related pieces of legislation in the last month. The latter two contain significant provisions related to paid leave and UI, including the opportunity for claimants to receive an additional $600 per week and to extend benefits to independent contractors and others who are self-employed. Last Saturday, DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor so that Wisconsin residents can take advantage of these benefits.

As is typically the case after passage of large-scale federal legislation, federal agencies are developing guidance on how states can or must implement the new federal law. Once received, DWD will program their systems to accommodate the changes. They will continue to update their FAQs on how residents can take advantage of these new programs as guidance becomes available. 

Visit DWD website for further information HERE.

Recent questions from our office

Does DOC have enough soap and water for everyone?

Yes, the department offers soap free of charge to all inmates.

Can people write letters to prisoners without specific names to foster human connection?

Unfortunately, due to security concerns the department requires mail to be addressed to a specific individual, including their full name and DOC number.  This information is available on the public inmate locator website.

Having suspended visitations for the time being, the department has been reviewing alternatives.  This includes expanding phones call to all adults in custody to include an additional two 15 minute phone calls free of charge, and expanding canteen purchase limits.

Will pregnant women who give birth during this time be able to connect with loved ones after birth?

This decision is determined on a case by case basis with consideration of safety and security as well as the medical condition of the patients.

Miller Park Tax Ends 

Starting tomorrow, the sales tax will drop 0.1% in Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties with the end of the Miller Park Tax. 


On a personal note, I want to assure you we are doing everything we can with the information and power that we have while working through an unprecedented pandemic that has facts and advice changing seemingly constantly. I will continue monitoring this crisis, and I will not forget my call to service to the people of the 14th district. Part of my job is disseminating information, and we will keep you posted as news happens. And, we will also work to generate ideas for how to best respond. I understand this is both a challenging time, and for many-- a scary time. Please check on your neighbors, reach out to the elderly, if you need help and receive an offer for help, take confidence in accepting that help. Together, as one Wisconsin, we will walk through this moment, and may we remember one another, reach out, ask for help, offer help, and be the community to one another we were made to be. Now is the time to draw together as one Wisconsin.

My office is here. Please reach out with any questions. We will be at work. And once again, the safety and security of my constituents is my number one priority. Please rest at night knowing that. 

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1,351 confirmed cases

17,375 negative test results

16 devastating deaths

14th District Counties

Milwaukee - 674 confirmed cases
Waukesha -  101 confirmed cases

For daily updated information on COVID-19 in Wisconsin, visit the DHS website here. 

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Forward together,

Rep. Robyn Vining


Contact Us: 

State Capitol
P.O. Box 8953
Madison, WI 53708 

PH: (608) 266-9180
TF: (888) 534-0014

Email: Rep.Vining@legis.wi.gov 
Web: www.vining.assembly.wi.gov 

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