MON AM News: Congress moves ahead on COVID relief package; Importers to pay more duties to start 2021

— Congressional leaders reached a deal tying a $1.4 trillion bill to fund the government until Oct. 1 to $900 billion in coronavirus relief. 

The House will take up the agreement today.

Reports indicate the latest relief package includes another round of the Paycheck Protection Program, a $300-per-week unemployment benefit for 11 weeks, a pared-down $600 second round of stimulus checks, and money for schools, coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution.

— Increased import duties at  year’s end could hurt businesses and trickle down to consumers, according to M.E. Dey & Co. President Sandi Siegel.

Importers can expect to pay more duties to start 2021 as many Section 301 product exclusions, the Generalized System of Preference program and the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill expire. Section 301 is one of the ways the U.S. enforces its rights under trade agreements and addresses unfair foreign barriers to its exports.

No particular region will be impacted, but Section 301 products and the two programs have heavy imports of consumer goods in retail, electronics and apparel, as well as parts for machinery and products made in the U.S., said Siegel, co-host of the “Talking Trade” podcast. 

Most of the 550 product-specific exclusions across the four Section 301 tariff actions expire at the end of the year. Six exclusions will expire Dec. 28, and 531 will expire Dec. 31.

“There will not be new exclusions granted. But there is legislation requesting an extension of the current exclusions in place as well as … the hopes of renewing GSP before year-end,” Siegel said, looking forward to the new Joe Biden administration. “Biden may extend exclusions until he has a clearer idea of what the economic and political impact of these 301 duties are.”

The Generalized System of Preference program will also expire Dec. 31. The trade preference program allows for duty-free treatment on thousands of products imported into the U.S. from developing countries. 

Milwaukee customs broker M.E. Dey & Co. reported it’s unlikely that Congress will renew the program prior to the expiration date. So importers will be required to pay “normal” duties effective Jan. 1. But since GSP’s renewal is retroactive, once renewed, importers are able to seek refunds of duties paid during the lapse.

And the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill expires on Dec. 31. The bill temporarily reduces or suspends import duties on particular products imported in the U.S. The MTB reduced or eliminated tariffs on 1,700 products in more than two years. 

Congress is also unlikely to renew the MTB before its expiration, according to M.E. Dey & Co. Although it is expected that the MTB will eventually be renewed, it’s not retroactive, so importers are not able to get refunds.

“Increased duties can hurt business especially if they apply to goods used in production,” Siegel said. “Additional duties paid on finished goods or parts for production will surely be passed on to the ultimate consumer.”

— In the latest “Talking Trade” episode, Siegel and co-host UW-Madison Prof. Ian Coxhead discuss changes afoot in east-west trade as Biden prepares to take office.

Siegel said Biden is expected to strengthen trade partnerships with European and Asian countries as part of his “Made in America” campaign promise.

The video podcast explores trade issues affecting Wisconsin and the Midwest.

See the show, supported by the Center for East Asian Studies at UW-Madison: 

— Madison’s “Hotel of the Arts” opens today on Coho Street near the Beltline and Fish Hatchery Road. 

Baymont Inn & Suites by Wyndham will be known locally as Hotel of the Arts. It is a custom-design boutique hotel, featuring custom, contemporary designs and artwork by designer Nicolas Cascarano.

Construction cost $10 million, with the groundbreaking taking place in September 2019. Co-owners Patrick Prabhu and Karl Rajani also run Hotel of the Arts Days Inn & Suites in Milwaukee. They expect to create 24 jobs.

“There is a pent up demand for traveling,” said Prabhu, who is also the general manager of the Madison hotel. “Once it is safe to do so, our hotel will be ready to meet those demands. The convenient location, which is close to many large businesses, the Beltline and iconic Madison attractions, makes it an ideal place to stay for visitors.”

The hotel was designed with millennials in mind, he said. The 37,571-square-foot property has 85 guest rooms and community spaces to meet technologically minded millennials’ needs, such as a bar, “mini-mart” and fitness center.

Prabhu told the company has instituted a program called “Count On Us,” which the hotel will implement. It involves the use of personal protective equipment by hotel staff, CDC-approved surface disinfectants for COVID-19 and social distancing protocols in all common areas. 

“We’re thrilled to open another Hotel of the Arts property and be a part of Madison’s vibrant community,” he said. “We hope that the unique features of this hotel and its convenient location make it an ideal place for business travelers and visitors for years to come.”

— The Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules has rolled back portions of a DNR emergency rule used to limit PFAS contamination from firefighting foam. 

The vote fell 6-4 along partisan lines, with Dems arguing the suspensions took the teeth out of the state’s ability to monitor and regulate the foams. 

Republicans, meanwhile, said DNR overstepped its authority to draft regulations, as the Legislature didn’t specifically ask for such rules in the statute. 

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a series of chemicals found in industrial and everyday products, most notably firefighting foam. They do not break down in the environment and are known carcinogens with links to serious diseases and health problems in humans.

The DNR has acknowledged more than 50 PFAS-contaminated areas throughout the state.

Gov. Tony Evers last year signed into law a bill banning the use of such firefighting foams other than for emergency purposes or testing operations with proper containment measures. And while the ban on PFAS foams went into effect in early September, the Natural Resources Board didn’t pass its concurring regulations until October.

“The bar was lowered to the point where we could trip over it and even that was too much,” said Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, of Act 101 and the ensuing DNR regulation. 

Read the full story at 

— The U.S. Department of Agriculture invested over $600 million in rural Wisconsin this year, according to Wisconsin Rural Development State Director Frank Frassetto.

Under President Trump and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, Frassetto said the assistance is helping increase economic opportunities and improving the quality of life for rural Wisconsin residents.

Highlights of the investments include broadband investments, which totaled $13 million through the ReConnect Pilot Program and Telecom Infrastructure programs. The two connected 3,500 people and 66 farms and businesses to high-speed internet across five counties.

About 32,000 people benefitted from rural infrastructure investments totaling $153 million to upgrade electric infrastructure, expand safe drinking water and improve wastewater management systems.

Rural economic development investments totaled $37 million through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program to increase biofuels sales, the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program to create and save nearly 530 jobs, and the Rural Energy for America Program for energy efficiency improvements.

See the full list of investments in the release: 

— Wisconsin is expecting shipments of the Moderna vaccine this week after it was authorized for emergency use in people 18 years of age and older on Friday. 

The state Department of Health Services is prioritizing hospitals and clinics as initial vaccination sites so as to reach frontline health care workers. The move was recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee. 

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 shots are not interchangeable. The same product must be administered for both doses of the vaccine series.

“We are many months away from having enough COVID-19 vaccine supply and reaching high vaccination coverage,” DHS said in a release. The agency encourages people to continue wearing masks, physical distancing, washing hands, and getting tested and isolating if one has signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

“Even after the first people get vaccinated, it is important to continue using all these COVID-19 precautions so that we stand the best chance of getting our families, communities, schools, and workplaces ‘back to normal’ sooner,” DHS said.

— The Wisconsin National Guard is assisting this week with the distribution of the state’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines.

Approximately 20 troops are helping manage vaccine inventory at undisclosed sites across the state.

Those troops are serving in a support role in coordination with DHS, Wisconsin Emergency Management, the Wisconsin State Patrol, and others, as the state seeks to vaccinate frontline health care workers.

Guard troops assist in handling the inventory of the initial supply of vaccines and preparing them for delivery to facilities that need them. The Guard is not conducting vaccine transport or security missions at this time.

“The Soldiers and Airmen of the Wisconsin National Guard continue to step up to do whatever our state asks of them during this pandemic,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general. “We’re proud to assist our partner agencies and our fellow citizens in this small, but critical role to get the vaccine distributed as efficiently as possible.”

— The Guard is ending a mission manning a state call center that informed residents of their COVID-19 test results. 

Dozens of troops had staffed the call center since the spring when mass community-based testing began. In the initial months of community-based testing, testing teams collected information manually, and the call center followed up with test results. As the state implemented new registration technology at testing sites, the need for a call center decreased, and now most test results arrive via text or email. 

Guard members placed nearly 560,000 calls from the call center to confer test results.

Since March, more than 1,600 Wisconsin Guard members have served in a variety of roles, and since April, has administered nearly one million COVID-19 tests statewide.


# Foxconn tells Wisconsin it never promised to build an LCD factory

# Key to achieving herd immunity is through vaccination, Dr. John Raymond says 

# State Regulators Approve Framework To Encourage Electric Vehicle Programs



– State Milk Production Rises for Fourth Time in 2020 

– Report Shows Higher Feed Costs in 2021 


– How the pandemic has altered some construction sites as industry heads into winter 


– Funding, Enrollment Challenges Facing Wisconsin’s Public Colleges And Universities 


– Milwaukee approves more than $9M in Covid-19 grants for businesses 


– Wisconsin Nears Agreement With Foxconn Technology Group, Records Show 


– Wisconsin to receive fewer Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses next week 

– Wisconsin Reports Lowest Number Of New COVID-19 Cases Since Late November 


– Greater Milwaukee Foundation invests $1 million in Milwaukee County venture capital fund 


– Wisconsin’s Longest-Serving Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson Has Died At 87 


– Haribo finally breaks ground in Pleasant Prairie, three-plus years after announcing project 


– For Wisconsin Voters Of Color, Disenfranchisement Can Continue After Election 


– State again seeking development site for new Milwaukee crime lab 

– Waukesha reopens competition for senior apartment development near City Hall 


– Onalaska chicken ordinance expanded to include all residents 


– With Bucks’ help, Milwaukee nonprofit receives sizable grant from NBA 


– Skylight Music Theatre working with budget sliced in half due to Covid-19 


– Schneider National to implement pay increase for its truck drivers in 2021 


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