Updates from the State Senate - April 10, 2020

The photo above was taken in Kaukauna.


Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District








Dear Friends and Neighbors,


While it may seem like months, it’s now been just a few weeks with the COVID-19 outbreak spreading in Wisconsin. According to state health officials, the changes we’ve made to our daily routine are having a positive impact as we’re beginning to see a flattening of the curve. As we continue adapting to our temporary new normal, I wanted to take some time to provide some updates on the state’s response to COVID-19 and offer links to resources with more information to help everyone navigate this unprecedented circumstance.



Unemployment Benefits and Insurance Coverage


With the effects of the Safer at Home order being felt throughout Wisconsin, unemployment claims have unfortunately been on the rise. If you’re facing joblessness during this crisis and have questions regarding unemployment benefits, I’d encourage you to visit this page of frequently asked questions put together by the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD). On the page, you can find a link to apply online.


About 98% of claims can be completed entirely online. Just this morning DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman, speaking to a large group of Wisconsin businesses, continued to strongly encourage online applications because they are more efficient. However, some claims may require follow-up by phone. DWD phone lines remain busy because of the volume of claims, so if you find yourself siting on hold for hours at a time, my office may be able to help constituents of the 2nd Senate District connect with an Unemployment Insurance representative. Please feel free to contact my office if you are having troubles with unemployment claims.


The loss of a job doesn’t just mean the loss of an income. Some residents and families may deal with the loss of health insurance coverage. The state Office of Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) has created a frequently asked questions document for individuals who have lost their health coverage. The document covers different options for health insurance, including the individual marketplace, BadgerCare Plus, and the ability to retain employer-based coverage, along with links for additional information on these options. You can find this information on OCI’s website.



Child Care Options


The closure of schools and some daycare providers has been hard enough for those in Northeast Wisconsin who are able to work remotely due to the pandemic. But for those who continue going to work and helping our state fight this pandemic, the lack of childcare options can be devastating.


The state Department of Children and Families recognized this challenge, and has established a website for ‘essential employees’ looking for daycare services. You can enter your information to be connected with options on ChildCareFinder.Wisconsin.gov.



Assistance for Employers


Small businesses suffering losses from the outbreak of COVID-19 have been faced with difficult decisions in the past few weeks. While these losses are very difficult, I’ve been pleased to see steps towards relief offered by the Wisconsin District Office of the federal Small Business Administration.


This includes the Paycheck Protection Program which was recently enacted into law by the federal government. This program helps small businesses, including farmers, to make it through these trying times while keeping their workforce employed. This assistance varies from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which I’ll discuss below, as the business may be subject to loan forgiveness or grants. Learn more about this program on the following websites:


If you’re a business owner who’s been faced with the difficult choice of layoffs already, Economic Injury Disaster Loans are still an option even if you can’t qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program. This program is outlined, along with links on the application process, on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s webpage dedicated to COVID-19. Additionally, if you’re interested in this small business disaster loan, I would further encourage you to review this fact sheet on the loans from the Small Business Administration and find further information on applying to this program may be found here.


The Small Business Administration has been hard at work to try to clarify the information about these loans, including putting out a frequently asked question sheet for faith-based organizations, providing this information in multiple languages on their website, and offering regular webinars to learn more about these resources (you can learn about these webinars in advance by signing up for emails from the Wisconsin Office of the Small Business Administration on their website). If you reach out for assistance directly to SBA please be aware they are handling a number of inquiries at this difficult time. Please be patient and as always, you can reach out to my office if you are running into unsurmountable problems.


Finally, if you’re finding it difficult to navigate these different programs, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce has created a COVID-19 Employer Toolkit that can help local businesses and workers navigate the various state and federal resources available. The Toolkit also covers some of the various changes made during these unusual times. You can find this toolkit on their website.



Personal Protective Equipment


Personal protective equipment (PPE) is crucial in the fight against COVID-19 to reduce the risk to medical professionals and other health care providers working tirelessly to help our communities. But as the need for PPE has gone up, the state has taken steps to increase the supplies available to Wisconsin’s doctors, nurses, first responders, and other frontline providers.


This includes requests from the Strategic National Stockpile. Three rounds of requests have been fulfilled, with the latest coming just yesterday. These shipments have provided 167,700 N95 respirators, 623,400 surgical masks, 79,000 face shields, 108,600 surgical gowns, 2,200 coveralls, and 377,500 gloves.


The state has also established a website where individuals and businesses can donate personal protective equipment in quantities of 50 items or more. If requested, the state can also offer to buy these goods at face value. If you have PPE that you’re interested in providing, please visit this website.


Receiving PPE is a start, but we also need to make sure this equipment is being distributed to the front lines in our hospitals, long-term care centers, and firehouses. I’ve been working with the state Department of Health Services to determine how they are distributing this gear, and I’m pleased to know that they have recently set up a system where health care providers can request this equipment online.


By ensuring that providers are informed about the steps to request supplies, using a formula where they can maintain an equal distribution of goods, and ensuring that the state hand delivers the PPE, we can continue to help doctors, nurses, and first responders stay safe during this outbreak.



Prevention Steps


I know everyone’s heard about the preventions steps recommended by state and federal health officials before, but frequent reminders can help us to subconsciously work these into our daily routines. These measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 should be used by everyone, not just those who are symptomatic, and are the best way that you can help our communities to fight this outbreak.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and use hand sanitizer between hand washings

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth

  • Cough into your arm and cover sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue away and wash your hands

  • Consider following CDC’s new recommendations by wearing a mask in public, but preserve N95 masks for health care professions (learn how to make your own mask at home without sewing here)

  • Avoid close contact with others, even if they’re not currently ill (known as ‘social distancing’

  • Stay home, especially if you’re sick or if you may have a compromised immune system

  • Clean and disinfect frequently handled objects and touched surfaces (such as cell phones)


The graphic I’ve included below really helps to demonstrate the importance of social distancing during this outbreak:



Feedback on Conservation Questions


Looking to help limit public gatherings and reduce the spread of COVID-19, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has decided to move the annual Conservation Congress meeting online. A Wisconsin tradition, in past Aprils thousands of engaged citizens would look forward to attending one of 72 Conservation Congress hearings around the state to vote on advisory questions related to natural resources management and sporting heritage. This year, instead of in-person hearings on April 13th, citizens will be able to provide input online over the course of a 72-hour period starting on next Monday, April 13th. To learn more about online participation and to find the most up-to-date information on these changes, please visit the DNR's website.



DNR Closes Some State Parks


After waiving State Park admission fees during this pandemic a couple of weeks ago, the surge of visitors to State Parks in the southern region of our state lead to, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), overcrowding, excessive amount of litter, and some cases of vandalism. That led the DNR to closing forty State Parks and Forests yesterday, with most of them being far from the 2nd Senate District.


One State Park in Northeast Wisconsin, High Cliff, was closed under this order. I understand the necessity to protect our State Parks and their visitors, but I was also concerned about the impact to resident’s outdoor recreation, which is perhaps more important now than ever for both mental and physical health. You can see a full list of closures on the DNR’s website.


That’s why I spoke to DNR Secretary Preston Cole yesterday to learn more about this decision. I was astonished to learn that just last weekend, 16,000 people visited High Cliff State Park. Even under the best of circumstances with people attempting to practice social distancing, this is bound to lead to overcrowding.


I told the Secretary that I understand the public health necessity of this decision, but I also implored him to work with the state Department of Health Services to search for ways that we can reopen some State Parks, perhaps with quotas of the number of people allowed in at a time, so Wisconsinites can safely enjoy some time outdoors during this outbreak while minimizing the risk of spread of COVID-19 and protecting the integrity of our beloved State Parks.



Essay Contest Highlighting Local Businesses


As I mentioned in the last e-newsletter, dozens of local businesses are stepping up to meet today’s new challenges. With everything from food and household goods production, to the manufacture of medical supplies which sometimes requires retooling production and equipment, and the continued transport of all of these items, there’s just too many stories to be able to share them all. Thank you to all the businesses stepping up in this trying time!


The Wisconsin Business World is asking area middle and high school students to help share more of these stories by hosting an essay contest with cash prizes for the top essays. If you have a student at home, this is a great opportunity to have them learn more about the remarkable work being done close to home during this global historical event. Learn more about this contest here.



Seeking Help in these Difficult Times


The changes to our everyday lives in recent weeks, intensified by the constantly changing news cycle can cause anxiety, stress, and fear among Wisconsin residents. If you’re facing these issues, please know that you’re not alone. The state Department of Health Services has established a website known as ‘Resilient Wisconsin’ where you can learn more about how to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak and find resources for additional help.


The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has also established a webpage titled ‘Mental Health and COVID-19’ where you can find advice and guidance and view public messages meant to help us all make it through these difficult times.


Lastly, please know that we are all in uncharted waters and individuals will find different coping mechanisms to deal with our current situation. Even in your own household your family members may be dealing with varying degrees of stress and anxiety and in very different ways. Try to understand each other and support those closest to you.



Thank You!


To the doctors and nurses, firefighters and EMTs, public health sectors employees and researchers, truck drivers, daycare providers, law enforcement officers, farmers, custodial staff and sanitation works, grocery store employees, and so many more, thank you for the part you’re playing to help our communities get through this outbreak!


The gratitude our communities owe to our neighbors playing a critical role in this fight cannot be expressed enough.



Happy Easter


While it’s a couple of days early, I want to wish everyone a Happy Easter! While this year may not be quite the same, Sunday still offers an opportunity for celebration, reflection, and quality time with members of your household.


As we near the end of Holy Week, a sacred tradition for people of Christian faith in Northeast Wisconsin, the changes this year have been evident. Fortunately, religious communities of all faiths have adapted to these difficult times through virtual or drive through services. I’d like to applaud the Diocese in Green Bay and the many other faiths that have taken proactive steps to protect parishioners while maintaining a sense of community during this unusual time.



Until Next Time


My staff and I continue to remain available to assist with questions you may have involving state government during this difficult time. While we may not always have the answer right away, we’ll do our best to assist with your questions and concerns revolving around COVID-19 or other issues related to state government.


To find the most up-to-date information on the Governor’s actions, including the ‘safer at home’ order, along with each state agency’s role in this outbreak, I’d encourage you to visit this website. You can also find the information I’ve shared in my previous e-newsletters.


And as always, please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have, and be sure to visit my website and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for regular updates on Coronavirus and more from around the 2nd Senate District and in the State Capitol.


Thanks for reading!



Senator Robert Cowles
Proudly Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District




Mailing Address: P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 | Office: 118 South, State Capitol

Office: (608) 266-0484 | District: (920) 448-5092 | Sen.Cowles@legis.wisconsin.gov




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