We need unity, not division

by Rep. Katrina Shankland

There is no doubt that this year has been extraordinarily difficult for many. The COVID-19 pandemic has created tremendous hardships for many people here in Portage County and across the state, and my heart breaks for the dozens of our community members and the thousands across Wisconsin who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. I frequently hear from folks who are struggling to get by, to support their families, and to maintain their livelihoods. They are understandably tired of waiting for the pandemic to pass, wondering when additional government assistance may finally arrive. I share their impatience. We’re at an urgent moment – as the virus’ effect on our economy and public health continues to impact families, workers, and small businesses, it’s past time for state and federal pandemic relief. I am committed to doing everything within my power to help. You can reach out to me with any suggestions or questions you may have, and I am always here to assist you in any way I can.

It has been eight months since the Wisconsin Legislature convened to pass 2019 Wisconsin Act 185, the only COVID-19 relief legislation that has passed. When we came together in April, I made it clear that this legislation was just a start, and that there was much more work to do together. Since then, I’ve introduced bills to speed up the process to help get folks their unemployment benefits faster, coauthored proposals to support our schools and front-line health care workers, and signed on to bipartisan legislation to double financial support for small businesses. I’ve sent several letters with my colleagues urging legislative leadership to convene and collaborate on meaningful solutions. Unfortunately, we’re inching closer to the end of the year without taking any further action on COVID-19 together.

In recent weeks, both Governor Evers and Assembly Republican leadership have offered COVID-19 proposals. While I am encouraged by the appetite to take action again, the difference in the proposals is stark. Regrettably, State Senate leadership has said they see no need to convene the Senate before the end of the year. That’s unacceptable. I urge my colleagues in both houses and on both sides of the aisle to set aside partisan politics and focus on what we can do together immediately to support the people of our state who are struggling. If we could find consensus in April, surely we can do it again. Let’s start with additional support for healthcare workers, unemployed folks, and small businesses, and do everything in our power to support our public health workers in the fight against COVID-19.

While there are many immediate steps we can take together as a state, we also urgently need action on the federal level. Many vital federal relief provisions and programs will expire at the end of this year, yet our federal representatives have not yet been able to agree on a plan for any additional aid since passing the CARES Act. In Congress, just as in the Legislature, this prolonged inaction is unacceptable. We simply cannot afford to drag our feet when people expect and deserve government to work for them and support them in their time of need. I encourage everyone to reach out to their state and federal elected officials to share their views and underscore the urgency of passing COVID-19 relief now.

I’ve attended community COVID-19 meetings since the beginning of the pandemic, and I take my responsibility as an elected official to advocate for the health, safety, and well-being of our community members very seriously. It’s clear the only way out of this pandemic is by working together, and I will continue doing my part to push for bipartisan collaboration and compromise at every level of government. While the deployment of the vaccine is on the horizon, it will be some time before we can all access a vaccine, achieve herd immunity, and safely return to some semblance of normalcy. Let’s focus on what we can do now to make a difference by following the public health guidelines to protect ourselves and each other. This holiday season, may we all embrace unity and community, casting aside division to effectively combat the spread of COVID-19.