MON AM News: Majority of aid to compensate farmers for trade conflict losses flows to relatively few; Excessive drinking ‘pulling down’ Wisconsin’s health ranking

— Wisconsinites have so far received $235.9 million out of the over $10 billion in Market Facilitation Program Funding sent nationally by the Trump administration in 2019 as reimbursement for economic losses over trade conflicts with other nations. 

But a review of recipients, gathered from data obtained by the Environmental Working Group under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that over half of all first-round 2019 payments went to the top 11.1 percent of all recipients. And 25 percent of first-round payments went to only 3 percent of all recipients. 

Numbers from 2018 tell a similar story, with half of last year’s total $202.3 million of Wisconsin payments going to 9.5 percent of the state’s 21,035 recipients. 

EWG didn’t collect data for the second round of 2019 payments, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture is still distributing now. USDA distributed the first round from August to October. 

The USDA has a $250,000 limit on payments to individuals this year. But a spokeswoman for EWG said the payment caps don’t apply to farm partnerships, so the biggest farms are able to work around the cap and receive payments for every individual member of the partnership. 

Russel Brothers Farms, a dairy partnership in Shullsburg, received the most cash out of any recipient in the state in 2018 with $488,680. The USDA paid only nine farms over $200,000 last year, according to EWG’s FOIA data. Russel Brothers Farms didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

As of Dec. 3, the latest USDA update on 2019 payments showed Wisconsin received $32.5 million in livestock payments, $195.7 million in non-specialty crop payments and $7.7 million in specialty crop payments. 

See more: 

— Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare, says state leaders should be paying attention to Wisconsin’s declining health ranking. 

She said the state’s overall ranking is improved by “things people can control” including high school graduation rates and physical activity. 

“The main thing pulling Wisconsin’s ranking down is the excessive drinking,” she said. “That’s something to pay attention to and focus on.” 

The America’s Health Rankings report has been published each year for three decades by the United Health Foundation. Wisconsin has fallen from 7th in 1990 to 23rd this year. Randall says the change is due to both internal and external factors, as national trends help shape the health of Wisconsin residents. 

As the state’s health ranking has slipped over the decades, obesity has risen steadily in line with changes at the national level. 

“Obesity is very much linked to other medical illnesses — cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes — and we’re seeing that obesity increase in Wisconsin and the nation,” she said in a recent interview. 

According to the report, diabetes in Wisconsin has shown some slight improvement in the past two years. But on the national level, diabetes has increased 148 percent among adults since 1996, according to Randall. 

Wisconsin is ranked 4th in the nation for diabetes prevalence, which Randall says is a good sign. But she noted that obscures some year-over-year state-level increases in diabetes prevalence as well. And even the highest-rated states for diabetes have higher levels than in the late 1990s. 

Randall notes that Wisconsin is ranked 13th for physical activity, which can help bring down blood sugar levels, delay the onset of diabetes, or control the onset altogether. She says that could help explain Wisconsin’s high ranking for diabetes, as some of the impacts of obesity are mitigated by high levels of exercise. 

And she highlighted bright spots for the state — a low percentage of uninsured and clean air — that can be supported through investment by the business and health care communities. 

“Don’t take your attention off things you’re already doing well,” she said. 

See a recent story on the rankings: 

See the full report: 

— A recent state audit found the Department of Administration failed to track certain information related to state-owned residential properties, while DNR and UW System undercharged thousands of dollars for related rental payments. 

Under state statute, DOA administers residential properties that are leased to state employees and managed by state agencies. In its report, the Legislative Audit Bureau found DOA didn’t comply with certain requirements including regular property appraisals, and also didn’t monitor compliance of other state agencies with its policies. 

DOA is required to conduct appraisals of the properties every 10 years, but the audit shows the last appraisal was in 1995. 

And due to a failure to implement rental payment adjustments determined by DOA, the audit found the Department of Natural Resources will have undercharged an estimated $38,900 this year for rental payments while UW institutions will have undercharged $24,000. 

As of December 2018, DNR managed 32 properties occupied by 32 employees, and UW System managed 114 properties with 171 employees. The Legislative Audit Bureau report was created in response to a report made to a hotline for fraud, mismanagement, and waste. 

The audit also found that DNR complied with IRS guidelines for residency in just two of its 32 lease agreements, while UW entities complied in three of 16 lease agreements in effect December 2018. UW-Madison couldn’t provide lease agreements for a handful of employees, and DNR improperly provided rental payment discounts for some lease agreements. 

LAB is recommending DOA increase property monitoring and oversight as well as complying with statute, while also suggesting DNR and UW System improve their management of lease agreements struck with state employees. 

See the full audit: 

— WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes highlights broadband internet access, housing and talent development as the three “really big conversations” surrounding rural economic development in Wisconsin.

Speaking at a luncheon in Madison last week, Hughes said she had firsthand experience with two of those conversations.

Hughes, who started the job Oct. 1 after working as general counsel and chief mission officer for food co-op Organic Valley,  said her family faced “obstacles” after moving in 2003 from Colorado to rural Wisconsin, including finding a house. The property the family ultimately settled on, she said, was badly in need of renovation.

And 16 years later, her house in western Wisconsin’s Viroqua still doesn’t have broadband internet access.

“It’s really annoying to try to get my email and to Google something; it slows everything down,” she said. 

The aging housing inventory in the rural areas of the state, Hughes said, also played a role in making small towns “not as attractive” to young families.

As such, she said it was a risk for a developer to “to come and be the first to put a shovel in the ground.”

But she sees an opportunity for the state to “put a little bit of a finger on the scale” to incentivize housing and broadband development in rural areas in order to “interest people in moving there.”

See more from the luncheon at 

— A prominent UW-Madison researcher has received patent approval for a new type of vitamin D molecule that could improve treatments for various diseases including some cancers. 

Hector DeLuca’s laboratory has been exploring the molecular function of vitamins and hormones for more than 50 years, and first determined in the 1960s that vitamin D is biologically inactive and must be modified to produce the active hormone called calcitriol. 

This hormone has been used in the treatment of many diseases including cancer, osteoporosis, psoriasis, autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, according to an info sheet from WARF. But at therapeutic concentrations, the hormone can lead to hypercalcemia, which is characterized by high levels of calcium in the blood, muscle weakness, soft tissue calcification, and other symptoms. 

Scientists in the DeLuca lab saw a need for better treatments and created a complex modified version of the vitamin D molecule they dubbed UW-05. It shows “pronounced activity in arresting proliferating cells” — a hallmark in cancer. Plus it has fewer effects related to calcium compared to the calcitriol hormone. 

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation is seeking commercial partners to develop the modified form of vitamin D. 

DeLuca is widely known for his work with vitamin D and has more than 150 registered patents, which have brought tens of millions of dollars in royalties to UW-Madison. He held the chair position in the university’s Department of Biochemistry from 1970-1986 and 1991-2005. 

See the new patent here: 

— A new UW System report shows UW-Whitewater contributes $514.9 million to the regional economy. 

System officials recently visited the university as part of the “All In Wisconsin” tour, highlighting the impact of universities in the state. 

“All areas of our campus operations, from academics to athletics to the arts, contribute to this profound financial impact,” said UW-Whitewater Chancellor Dwight Watson. “We are also proud of the vibrant collaborations we have created with our business and community partners.” 

According to the report, the university supports 4,480 jobs and $198.7 million in wages, generating around $23 million in state tax revenue. 

On a statewide basis, an earlier report estimated the UW System’s economic impact at $24 billion. 

See the release: 


# Report: Wisconsin cuts a larger share of pollution control funding than other states

# Highway commission won’t advance new major projects after 5-year hiatus

# Milwaukee DNC prepares to seek contracts for fleet of 600 vehicles

# Beer, butter and hospital developments have Hillsboro rising



– Huntsinger Farms awarded grant for major solar project


– Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals makes $267 million public stock offering


– Downtown Madison residents scrutinize proposed Hub II apartment building on Langdon

– 3-story commercial building damaged by fire in Milwaukee


– Royal Enfield donates motorcycles to BUILD Moto nonprofit education program

– UW System awarded grant to improve pathways to degrees for people of color

– Wisconsin students earn national Jersey scholarships


– Mount Pleasant facility sold to Venture One, investor seeks new tenants


– Lou Malnati’s planning restaurant in Brookfield, carry-out location in Greenfield


– She moved ‘at the speed of Sandra’: Overture CEO Sandra Gajic, 66, has died


– Columnist Jim Stingl among news staff accepting Journal Sentinel buyout


– Audit faults oversight of state-owned residential properties

– Bray Architects acquires Illinois firm, opens Iowa office, both in the Quad Cities

– University Club Tower condo sold for $4.5 million

– Berkadia opening Milwaukee office in 833 East


– Worker dies after becoming trapped in machinery at Sub-Zero


– Mountain bike course proposed under Marquette Interchange


– Tom Still: Will time run out on trade deal between U.S., Mexico and Canada?


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