Our frontline healthcare workers—including hospital workers, nursing home workers, and first responders—are risking their health every day to care for the people of our state. We must ensure that our frontline health care workers have the necessary protection and support to continue their service on the frontlines of this pandemic. We should provide hazard pay and full health coverage without out-of-pocket costs to health care workers, and ensure fully paid sick time for health care workers who contract or are exposed to COVID-19. We must also ensure the financial stability of frontline workers by creating an Essential Worker Tax Credit which will strengthen the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Accepting our federal health care dollars through the Medicaid expansion would save Wisconsin hundreds of millions of dollars and bring in over $1 billion in federal funds. During this public health and economic crisis, the legislature must do everything it can to free up state dollars and increase our health care capacity.
We cannot address long-term problems with short-term solutions. Many of the most important provisions passed by the legislature in April (Act 185) will expire at the end of the public health emergency on May 11th. The Governor will need the tools and flexibility to manage this crisis for some time to come. And it is our hope that the legislature will not stand in the way of any future order deemed necessary by the Evers Administration.
Wisconsin Democrats are committed to getting small businesses the help they need as they are facing unprecedented challenges. Our plan would provide state grants and low-interest, long-term loans to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the recently passed federal package will provide assistance to many small businesses, we should look for opportunities at the state level to keep businesses afloat and incentivize assistance loans made to small businesses for retention of workers. Democrats offered an amendment to AB 1038 to provide $30 million in immediate relief for small businesses that are struggling, aimed at keeping workers employed and avoiding mass layoffs.
It is critical to support the child care providers who are providing care for the children of those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, including healthcare workers and other critical workforce members. Democrats offered an amendment to create a grant program for critical workforce child care costs, to provide hazard pay for child care providers, and to provide grants for child care providers that cease operating during the public health emergency. We must also ensure teacher and school employees remain financially secure by requiring school boards to continue to pay and provide benefits for teachers and other employees during the public health emergency, at their regular rates and hours.
Our state's farmers and agricultural producers have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. While pending federal aid is a good first step in helping Wisconsin farmers, it will still not be enough for too many struggling farmers. The Assembly passed bills in February that would provide much-needed support for our farmers and now the Senate must act.
State action should be taken to prevent workers and businesses impacted by unexpected job losses and lost revenue from evictions during the public health emergency. Providing housing security for families is a public health measure. And providing continuity for businesses so they can operate through this crisis is a needed economic relief measure. Simply put, families and small businesses impacted by the crisis should not face eviction due to forces beyond their control.
Essential frontline workers are putting their health on the line so our communities can continue to operate. Grocery store workers, pharmacy workers, and health care providers deserve financial security after the sacrifices they have made for the rest of us. The Essential Worker Tax Credit would strengthen the Earned Income Tax Credit, a proven policy for low- and moderate-income working people that reduces poverty and rewards work.
In early April, Democrats introduced a bill to move all elections in calendar year 2020 to voting by mail in order to preserve voter rights while keeping voters and poll workers safe. Deciding now to move our elections to vote by mail for the rest of the year will give state and local officials time to plan and execute a safe, smooth, and secure election.
It is critical that we invest the time and resources to ensure that Wisconsinites can exercise their right to vote without risking their health. Democrats offered a proposal that would provide funding for the Wisconsin Elections Commission to update their voter registration system and support increased absentee voting. Democrats would also ensure that local clerks and local governments are not financial harmed by these necessary steps for our democracy during the pandemic. The state would pay for any postage and materials for statewide absentee voting.