THU AM News: Ag processing plants facing pandemic disruptions; Gallagher criticizing prolonged closure of schools

— Agricultural processing plants of all kinds are facing issues caused by the pandemic, leading to disruptions in supply chains for many agricultural industries.

Dairy, meat and other ag industries are facing issues at the processing level of the supply chain with plants facing a need to change many of the fundamental aspects of the process — from social distancing to packaging changes. Interruptions in virtually any area of the food supply chain can create ripple effects that lead to even bigger problems down the chain, according to a panel of UW experts. 

“That’s basically the punchline; supply chains are complicated,” said Gregory DeCroix, professor in supply chain management at the Wisconsin School of Business and one of the panelists a part of “The UW Now” livestream event put on by the UW-Madison alumni association.

Dairy farmers are dumping their milk because processing facilities simply cannot keep up with the supply from farmers. One of the major problems is that processing plants that used to produce paper cartons of milk for school lunches are having a hard time switching production to the plastic containers used by grocery stores. 

The dairy industry is particularly hard hit by the pandemic because restaurants are where many Wisconsinites consume a large amount of cheese. Before the pandemic, customers at Wisconsin restaurants were responsible for consuming 40 percent of the cheese and butter produced in the state, according to faculty director of the UW Dairy Innovation Hub Heather White.  

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— U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher is calling the prolonged closure of schools “a huge counterproductive mistake” and says “it’s far past time” for students to start making up for time lost in the past few months.

“I think we underappreciated how intimately connected kids going to school every day was to the basic functioning of our economy,” he said yesterday during a Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce web briefing. “In some ways, I’ve been persuaded by analyses that show that’s the first problem you need to solve for a broader reopening to even happen.”

But at the same time, the Republican lawmaker said “we’re probably going to have to be more risk-averse” when it comes to other populations that are at higher risk of COVID-19 infections. During the call, he noted that older adults are more vulnerable, pointing to outbreaks and significant numbers of virus deaths at long-term care facilities around the country.

“Even in the best-case scenario, we’re going to have to double- if not triple-down on our investments in protecting nursing homes, figuring out a way to do routine and rapid testing for the people that work there,” he said.

Gallagher is criticizing the current national testing strategy — in which people must seek out tests from a health care provider or government-run sites — arguing it creates an incomplete picture of how many asymptomatic people are in the population spreading the disease.

To get a better handle on the current situation, he’s calling for periodic, representative random testing among groups of Wisconsinites.

“That would give you a better sense of where we’re headed in terms of overall infection rates and non-infection rates,” he said. “Because a test that relies on people going into a drive-through or hospital is inherently biased … there’s a huge selection bias.”

Still, he acknowledged the need for continued testing, particularly in situations where outbreaks pop up and public health officials must quickly respond.

Gallagher also ripped the latest coronavirus relief package passed by the House as a “partisan wishlist,” arguing it was written “without any hint of bipartisan discussion.” He urged business leaders on the call to ignore the House version of the bill, noting that “what Mitch McConnell comes up with over the next few days will be far more close” to the next phase of relief than the House bill.

“Just ask yourself, how does sending federal tax dollars to illegal immigrants, encouraging the financial sector to work with cannabis businesses or giving tax breaks to other states help us get out of this crisis?” he said. “The simple answer is that it doesn’t.”

But at the same time, he said Republican leadership is committed to including liability protections for small businesses and hospitals as a foundation of any “Phase Four” coronavirus relief legislation.

He also said the next coronavirus legislation would probably include more funding for the health care system and testing — “and maybe some sort of targeted relief to states, if you can find a way to guard against the abuse.” Plus, he expects the Paycheck Protection Program will run out again and said any coming relief bill would likely provide a boost to that fund.

— Gov. Tony Evers has rolled out three more initiatives using federal CARES Act money, including $50 million in direct payments to Wisconsin farmers.

The money comes after the ag industry sent Evers a request earlier this year seeking $50 million to offset losses due to COVID-19.

Eligible farmers will apply for the aid through the Department of Revenue, which is working on the program in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection. The aid could arrive as early as June.

A DATCP spokeswoman said the agency was still finalizing details on eligibility.

The guv also announced $25 million for those struggling with rent payments and $15 million to combat hunger.

A portion of the $15 million will go toward helping food banks, pantries and nonprofit groups. The money can be used for expenses such as curbside pickup or delivery services, and the Evers office said it would prioritize the use of Wisconsin products whenever possible in feeding citizens.

The rent program will be targeted at adult residents with a household income at or below 80 percent of the county median in the month prior to applying. Those who qualify can receive up to $3,000 for rental payments and/or security deposits with the money paid directly to landlords.

The guv’s office said additional details will be released in the coming days, and DOA will partner with Wisconsin Community Action Program Association member agencies to accept applications and distribute the money.

Evers had previously announced $1.17 billion for testing, tracing and preparing for an expected surge of COVID-19 casers this summer, along with $75 million for small businesses.

Adding in the $90 million announced yesterday, that accounts for just more than $1.3 billion of the nearly $1.9 billion the state received from the CARES Act.

Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, knocked what the guv has rolled out so far, saying it often lacks specifics on how to apply for the money.

“People are suffering and scared for their financial future,” he said. “They need help now, not the promise of help only to find out they can’t access it.”

See the Evers releases:

— DHS reports the state’s COVID-19 death toll at 481 — up 14 from the last count and the most deaths in one day since May 9. 

The state’s number of confirmed cases also rose since the previous count — by 528. That’s the most positive test results recorded, but they only account for 8 percent of the 6,591 total tests received yesterday, the most tests collected in one day.

That brings the cumulative confirmed case count to 13,413, a majority of the cases came from Milwaukee (297) and Racine (54) counties.  

An estimated 58 percent have recovered from COVID-19, while 4 percent of patients have died. Thirty-nine percent are still in a 30-day waiting period of symptom onset or diagnosis.

Counties reporting deaths include: Milwaukee (265), Brown (29), Dane (26), Waukesha (24), Kenosha (21), Racine (20), Rock (14), Ozaukee (11), Walworth (11), Grant (10), Outagamie (5), Clark (4) and Washington (4).

Door, Fond du Lac, Richland, Sauk and Sheboygan counties report three deaths each.

Jefferson and Marinette counties report two deaths each.

Adams, Bayfield, Buffalo, Burnett, Calumet, Columbia, Dodge, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marquette, Monroe, Polk, Waupaca and Winnebago counties report one death each.

Seventy of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have confirmed cases. Only Langlade and Taylor counties haven’t reported any cases yet.

— Of the state’s 13,413 confirmed cases, 16 percent have been hospitalized and 4 percent have received intensive care, according to DHS.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association’s hospital dashboard reports 393 COVID patients in hospitals statewide. While that’s down from Tuesday, it’s 50 more than a week ago. WHA’s statewide patient data shows an upward trend in hospitalized patients since May 6. 

Wisconsin appears to have an adequate supply of beds and ventilators, according to WHA.

ICU beds immediately available in the state number 393 out of 1,434 total in Wisconsin; intermediate care beds — 213 out of 858; surgical beds — 1,630 out of 7,204; and isolation beds — beds in negative pressure rooms meant for isolating patients — 1,156 out of 1,970.

Statewide, hospitals have a total of 1,263 ventilators and 282 ventilated patients.

But PPE supplies are still lagging. Thirty-one hospitals in the state have seven days or less supply of N95 masks, 36 have a limited supply of gowns and 27 hospitals have limited paper medical masks.

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates: 

— Former Gov. Scott Walker is defending Unemployment Insurance reform efforts during his time in office and blamed Gov. Tony Evers for the backlog of UI benefits during the pandemic. 

Walker in a Trump Victory teleconference highlighted a DOA Division of Personnel Management amendment to Evers’ coronavirus emergency rules to allow limited term state employees to receive full pay under some circumstances while staying home and not working. 

“You’ve got thousands of public employees at the state level who are sitting idly at home collecting a paycheck,” he said. “It’s within the governor’s power to assign those individuals, and he should be doing it.” 

An Evers spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

DWD announced late last week it was adding new call centers and expanding staff and hours to answer questions from unemployed Wisconsinites. According to the agency, the state has transferred 243 employees to handle calls from laid off Wisconsin workers and was in the process of hiring another 315. 

The combined impact of the moves will jump the number of staff handling unemployment claims from less than 50 before the pandemic to more than 1,300. 

Walker called the reassigning effort “a simple process” workers could learn if Evers ordered it. 

Walker’s remarks come after DWD reported yesterday that more than 675,000 of the over 2 million unemployment claims in the state since the community spread began are still unpaid. 

“If they’d (reassigned employees) weeks ago when I first called for it, I don’t believe there would be a backlog right now,” Walker said. 

He added unemployment claim reforms during his time in office, such as the implementation of a one-week waiting period before receiving any benefits, happened during a different time when Wisconsin saw record-high job growth and record low unemployment. 

Last month, Evers signed into law an extraordinary session bill that temporarily rescinds the one-week waiting period until Feb. 7, 2021. 

The Senate Committee on Labor and Regulator Reform meets next week Thursday to take public testimony from invited speakers on the challenges to the UI system and DWD’s response. 

— A recent statewide survey found nearly a third of responding employers said they could survive more than 10 months under current conditions. 

The survey, from the Madison Region Economic Partnership and other regional economic development groups, was conducted between May 4 and 17. Surveyed businesses represent more than 67,000 employees across Wisconsin. 

According to Jeffrey Sachse, director of UW-Oshkosh’s Center for Customized Research and Services, the results suggest a “greater sense of resilience” among businesses in the state. 

Still, around 23 percent of surveyed employers said they could not stay open more than three months if the current situation persists. 

Around 65 percent of businesses surveyed said they were open in early to mid-May, and 9 percent said they’re confident they can reopen soon. 

Participating businesses reported $28.8 million in inventory losses, $78.9 million in income losses, and $26 million in lost wages and productivity. All of these numbers are down from the previous survey in April, and are considered cumulative losses. 

“It is encouraging to see reductions in inventory and income losses, though respondents are less optimistic about their ability to recoup these losses. It will be equally critical to trace the survivability of vulnerable firms now that we have started to reopen the state’s economy,” Sachse said. 

See more on the survey: 

— Building a brand-new website is often a painstakingly long process. But with the help of the developers at Wisconsin-based startup Bizzy Bizzy, the process can be done in just one day.

Using traditional methods, the website development process can take anywhere from a few weeks to months until the project is completed. It is often hindered with clients not having enough time to focus solely on the website, and the developer being tasked with multiple client projects. This process leads to inefficiencies and time lost to gain brand awareness or bring companies to life.

Candy Phelps, the founder of Bizzy Bizzy, has experienced this challenge first-hand, as she has run her own experiential creative agency and marketing accelerator for years. Instead of shying away, Phelps used her prior experience in journalism to create the idea of a One Day Website, Bizzy Bizzy’s new signature service.

“Traditional website building methods take time,” Phelps said. “Typically, clients and developers are playing phone tag or emailing back and forth constantly, which leads to a backlog in the work being done. We wanted to change that.”

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# Medical College joins ProHealth Care in taking out credit line amid cash-flow pinch

# Wisconsin counties lifting local Safer-At-Home orders ahead of schedule

# Evers launches $25 million rental assistance program

# UW to slowly restart research activities, offer mix of courses for fall



– State ag groups: USDA’s CFAP assistance not enough for dairy

– DFW asking consumers to support farmers during dairy month


– Building Commission advances $126 million gymnasium for UW-Madison


– Tony Evers announces COVID-19 rental assistance program

– $25 million in COVID-19 rent assistance on offer


– Marquette names new director for supply chain center


– Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison casino to reopen next week


– Fiserv subsidiary paying $40 million to settle fraud allegations


– Oprah’s foundation helps SaintA expand virtual mental health support

– Wisconsin private health insurers must cover copays for COVID-19 testing, office visits

– Connecting The Dots: Contact Tracing Tracks, Slows Spread Of COVID-19


– Harley-Davidson slowly restarts manufacturing at its facilities this week

– Cedarburg attracts Illinois manufacturer’s HQ to city’s new business park


– Wisconsin lawmakers pushing for MILK act


– State launches $25M rental assistance program as eviction moratorium ends


– City Council approves final piece of Union Corners project, historic preservation plan


– Neroli Salon & Spa aims to balance high demand with new safety protocols


– Barrett reveals more details for Milwaukee’s small business restart grants

– City of Milwaukee to open application period for small business grants


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

AT&T Foundation: Donates $50,000 to support Madison’s healthcare heroes operating on the frontlines

Area nonprofits receive over $109,000 from Alliant Energy Foundation