Updates from the State Senate - April 24, 2020

The photo above was taken at Lambeau Field.


Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District







2-1-1 Wisconsin


COVID-19 has disrupted Wisconsinitesí lives in many different ways, but almost everyone has had to adjust due to this outbreak. For some, this change has caused troubles with putting food on the table, accessing broadband, or a new need for mental health services.


If you find yourself looking for assistance to navigate these disruptions or others caused by COVID-19, 2-1-1 Wisconsin is here to help. Text COVID19 to 211-211, call 2-1-1, or visit 2-1-1 Wisconsin online to learn more.



Dear Friends and Neighbors,


As Wisconsinites continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, Iím writing today with some new updates and a few reminders that may be of interest to the constituents of the 2nd Senate District. As always, I hope this email finds you well, and I hope you find this information to be useful as we all navigate these trying times.


Before I start the latest jam-packed Updates from the State Senate e-newsletter, I wanted to provide some new information from the state Department of Health Services. This webpage answers questions that many of us are asking, like how long COVID-19 can survive on surfaces, do I need to sanitize my groceries, how often should I wash my clothes, and more. You can find all of these helpful answers on DHSís website.



Paycheck Protection Program for Small Businesses


After a week of delay from Congress, theyíve reached a consensus that allowed bipartisan approval on increased funding to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), an important small business safety net that provides forgivable loans to employers who retain their employees through this pandemic. The initial $349 billion in funding went quick as businesses looked to take advantage of this program, and Wisconsin businesses, with the help of local banking institutions, ranked tenth in the nation with 31,000 PPP loans and over $7 billion in funds as of April 13th.


This new $310 billion in funding, approved this week, will help more small businesses in Wisconsin and throughout the nation to retain their employees even under the difficult circumstances. You can learn more about the PPP on the Small Business Administrationís website. If youíre a business owner thatís interested in applying for a PPP and want to ensure your loan is forgiven, please remember these key tips from the Wisconsin Bankers Association:

  • You need to track your use of the PPP loan funds;

  • You must document and report on your fund use when applying for loan forgiveness, and;

  • At least 75% of PPP funds must be used for payroll costs.



Assistance for Those Facing a Loss of an Income


With the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak being felt throughout our economy, unemployment claims have unfortunately risen substantially from their previous record lows in just a matter of a few weeks. While Iím hoping the issues of unemployment will be alleviated soon, short-term assistance for those facing joblessness is necessary to ensure rent and utilities can be paid and food is on the table.


With the passage of 2019 Assembly Bill 1038 which I supported, now 2019 Wisconsin Act 185, residents on Unemployment Insurance will soon see extra benefits in their weekly checks as Wisconsin now complies with federal changes. Additionally, sole proprietors, meaning business owners who are their only employees, will soon be eligible for benefits. To learn more about these changes, please visit:


Unfortunately, some constituents that have to follow-up by phone on a claim filed online or have to start a claim through a call have had issues reaching Unemployment Insurance. Iíve been helping constituents get connected with unemployment representatives, but as these problems have persisted, Iíve joined some of my colleagues including Senator Feyen (R-Fond du Lac) in requesting a virtual meeting with DWD Secretary Frostman to discuss on how we can alleviate these issues. I learned yesterday afternoon that DWD is looking to contract with a call center as soon as tomorrow to help answer more calls and process more claims, but we still need to ensure that all residents can reach an unemployment benefits representative with relative ease. I look forward to this conversation.


Residents facing joblessness due to COVID-19 may have other questions besides unemployment benefits, including questions on health insurance options and housing issues or assistance. If you have these questions, Iíd encourage you to visit:



Impact of COVID-19 on Farmers


Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, many farmers throughout our state had already been dealing with tight revenue margins and shrinking markets. This pandemic has only worsened the situation for many agricultural producers in Northeast Wisconsin. Itís a difficult situation, but if the farmers in Brown, Outagamie, Shawano, and Waupaca County have shown us one thing, itís resilience. These farmers continue working to ensure that residents of our state and throughout the country arenít facing food shortages, and for that, I want to express my sincere appreciation to our regionís farmers.


But the COVID-19 pandemic doesnít just bring tighter agricultural markets, it also brings new questions for farmers looking to navigate these difficult times. If youíre a farmer, youíre likely already familiar with UW-Madisonís Division of Extension, formerly UW-Extension, and the valuable resources available through this program. The Division of Extension continues serving our stateís agricultural industry by creating a website with a wide variety of resources for farmers, including:


This is just a sampling of topics that are available on the Extensionís website. If youíre a farmer, Iíd encourage you to check out the full offering of information on their website. The UW Dairy Innovation Hub, a regional collaboration between three UW campuses created in the last State Budget, has also established a website where you can search for resources and tips for farmers during this pandemic. The website also allows you to enter your own questions for agricultural experts, and theyíll reach out to you with an answer. You can find this information or ask a question on the Dairy Innovation Hubís website.


Looking on a nationwide level, the Farmersí Legal Action Group has also published a guide to help farmers to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Statewide farm groups have recently shared this guide with legislative offices, and I wanted to make sure I passed this information along. You can find the guide here.


In the state government, the Governor and the Legislature received a request from a series of farm groups showing the projected loss to the stateís farmers and asking for $50 million in direct payment assistance to offset some of this loss. You can view the request here. From the nearly $2 billion the state will receive, itís our belief that the Governor will have authority over the expenditure of these funds, and I joined with a series of my colleagues including Senator Marklein (R-Spring Green) to ask the Governor to approve this request and assist our farmers. I hope to be able to share good news about this aid in a future e-newsletter.


Finally, the United States Department of Agriculture announced a plan on Friday to help farmers struggling during the pandemic with $16 billion in direct payments and a $3 billion plan to buy agricultural products and provide them to food banks. This plan was just announced and more information should be coming soon, but Iíll continue to follow this step at the federal level. You can learn more about this program here. Existing resources are also available to farmers, and those resources can be easily found and navigated on farmers.gov.



Employment Opportunities


While the unemployment benefits system is an important tool to help those facing joblessness due to COVID-19 stem this crisis, thereís also the opportunity for residents looking for work to find new employment opportunities during this time. Whether itís a temporary job until you return to your prior career or longer-term employment, dozens of opportunities currently exist in the 2nd Senate District.


A number of website are available to help you find these potential employment opportunities even during these difficult times, including:


Economic Stimulus Checks


As many of you noticed last week, over 80 million economic impact payments of $1,200 for many residents and $500 for minor dependents hit bank accounts. While Iím a state legislator, and therefore I did not have a role in crafting the federal guidelines for these payments, Iíve heard some questions from constituents about why they may have not received a payment.


The federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a webpage where you can check to see if youíre eligible for a payment and check on the status of your payment. If you donít file taxes, you can also visit that webpage enter your information to ensure that you receive a stimulus check. Visit IRSís website here to learn more. The stateís nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) also has a brief informational paper about these economic impact payments. You can read LFBís publication on their website.



Lunch Programs for Students


For some students, school isnít just a place to fulfil an education and build friendships, but itís also a guaranteed meal on days where they might not otherwise have access to three healthy meals a day. With the closure of schools, this assurance of a meal has been interrupted for some of Northeast Wisconsinís youth. However, lunch options are still available, even in these unusual times.


In addition to the school lunch programs being adopted by many local districts (check your school districts website for more information), the United States Food and Nutrition Service at the Department of Agriculture has a website titled ĎMeals for Kidsí where you can find meal options near you for your child.



Businesses Stepping Up During the Crisis


Many local companies have stepped up during this crisis to either increase the production of their consumer-based products like personal care goods and food items or switch production lines to medical supplies like personal protective equipment (PPE) as all of these items are becoming more necessary and some items are in short supply. Other companies are finding different, creative ways to give back to their communities. Iíve highlighted some of these local businesses in past e-newsletters, but I wanted to take a moment to showcase a few more of the many shining examples in Northeast Wisconsin.

  • The Boldt Company in Appleton is building prefabricated critical care isolation units for COVID-19 patients that are fully equipped and include hookups for medical gases, HVAC, information technology, electrical and water, and more. These units will help to service a hospital as they adapt to the need for more isolation with the risk of spread from COVID-19. Learn more on WBAYís website.

  • Thrivent Financial in Appleton recently donated 2,500 N95 masks to the state for distribution to medical providers and first responders in most need of new PPE. This donation will help to ensure that care to patients or potential patients of COVID-19 continues to be provided in a safe manner. See their donation on ReadyWisconsinís Twitter account.

  • Sturgeon Bay manufacturer Therma-Tron-X is working with Michigan Tech to create a shipping container-sized sanitization room where hospitals and others using PPE could place this material inside of the device, turn it on to the 140-degrees of heat necessary to disinfect PPE, and have it ready for safe reuse in a matter of hours. Learn more on the Green Bay Press-Gazetteís website.


This is just a small sample of the stories like this that exist throughout Northeast Wisconsin, and so many of these selfless actions go untold. Whether youíre a business owner or an employee of a business involved in helping our communities to get through the COVID-19 crisis, THANK YOU for the part youíre playing.



Public Internet Access Locations


With schools and libraries closed, some households are finding themselves with limited internet access. This can impact a studentís engagement with coursework, an adultís ability to stay up-to-date with the latest on the COVID-19 outbreak, and more. If you find yourself and your family having troubles accessing the internet, the state Public Service Commission (PSC) and Department of Public Instruction have created a new tool just for you.


The ĎEmergency Internet Finderí assists residents in finding free public broadband locations in your area. Almost 450 locations are available statewide, including many in Northeast Wisconsin, and these locations all offer parking so you can easily sit in your car while accessing the internet. This website, which can be found on PSCís website, is mobile friendly to allow residents to find a location on a smart phone then drive and access the location with a Wi-Fi accessible device.



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, weíll do our best to assist with your questions and concerns involving COVID-19 or other issues related to state government.


To find the most up-to-date information on the Governorís actions, including the ĎSafer at Homeí order, along with each state agencyís role in this outbreak, Iíd encourage you to visit this website. To find the most up-to-date numbers on confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin, visit the Department of Health Servicesí website. You can also find the information Iíve shared in my last six e-newsletters on COVID-19 by visiting my website.


And as always, please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have, and be sure to 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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