THU AM News: EMS groups requesting Medicaid rate increase; Baldwin discusses next national COVID-19 legislation

— Emergency medical service groups are seeking a Medicaid rate increase for EMS workers as Wisconsin is poised to receive more than $2 billion in federal stimulus aid.

Organizations representing firefighters, ambulance drivers and other EMS workers are also asking state legislators and Gov. Tony Evers to include them in any waiver applications for additional aid.

“We are sometimes forgotten,” said Chris Anderson, president of the Professional Ambulance Association of Wisconsin. “We are a small provider group compared to some of the bigger players, but what we do is vital.”

Speaking during a webinar yesterday with leaders of these groups, Anderson said EMS was not included in lists from Evers and lawmakers detailing who will get assistance through federal financial aid. He noted hospitals, long-term care providers and others were listed.

The state is estimated to receive $2.3 billion in federal stimulus money, $1.9 billion of which will be under the control of Evers with no legislative oversight.

Wisconsin’s recently passed COVID-19 legislation aims to help Wisconsin qualify for more federal Medicaid money, among other changes. That’s separate from the $1.9 billion coming through the stimulus package.

During the webinar, Anderson said his group along with the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association, the Wisconsin EMS Association and the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin are requesting $7.5 million each year from the state budget going forward.

“We just thought that this year, having some stimulus funding available would be a good kickstart to that,” he said. “But we want this to continue every year.”

See more: 

— While in recess, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says national lawmakers are working on “COVID 3.5” legislation to address any gaps and perceived shortages in Congress’s third coronavirus relief package, the CARES Act.

The Madison Dem told a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce briefing that she’s calling for an addition of $250 billion for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. 

“We do need to make sure changes are made in response to the concerns you’ve been sharing,” said Baldwin. 

She voiced support for lengthening the SBA loan period from its current eight weeks and eliminating the SBA’s 75/25 rule — that only 25 percent of the loan can be used for fixed costs — which she said, “caused a lot of tumult, unnecessarily.” 

“The eight-week rule and the 75/25 rule are causing a lot of business and industry to be really unable to utilize the PPP funds in a way that the Congress intended,” said Baldwin. 

She said that “COVID 3.5” can achieve bipartisan consent, because legislators are using the framework of what’s already been passed.

Then, Baldwin said, lawmakers will start on a fourth COVID-19 bill. 

“Four will be much more forward looking to seeing ourselves through and past the pandemic,” she said. 

— While the agriculture sector may see some relief from changes to the CARES Act, the dairy community specifically might have to wait until a fourth package to see support for milk demand, according to Baldwin. 

She explained milk processors that typically process dairy for the retail market have more demand, while others that process dairy products for large-scale entities such as schools and restaurants are seeing orders plummet. 

Earlier this month, Baldwin led a delegation requesting Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to buy the bulk dairy products for food banks and reopen enrollment for the Dairy Margin Coverage program, but said Perdue “did not seem inclined to do so.” 

Baldwin added while farmers are technically eligible for the Payroll Protection Program, it doesn’t work for them because most of their fixed costs are not payroll.

She plans to introduce legislation — specific to both dairy and agriculture — to address the safety and “enormous” disruptions in the food supply. This is important, she added, “especially as we’re trying to reopen.”

“That would give the secretary of agriculture a lot more flexibility, and we’re going to be pushing very hard for that to move in the next COVID 4 package,” said Baldwin.

— A professor at the UW Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy said Wisconsin’s unemployment rate could top 27 percent, if the state’s stay-at-home order continues. 

“Everything is kind of proportional to duration, so if we extend (Safer-at-Home) another month, I wouldn’t be surprised if it hit that 27 percent and (went) beyond it,” said Prof. Noah Williams of CROWE in a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce webinar.

With daily unemployment claim updates from the Department of Workforce Development, CROWE estimated the state unemployment rate for April 14 at 16.17 percent.

“I think we’ll hit 20 before too long; at the rate we’ve been going it’s been roughly a percentage point or so every couple of days, so I would certainly say by the end of month we could be nearing 20 percent.”

But Williams said it remains to be seen how effective the Payroll Protection Program and other programs are in limiting that. 

Initial unemployment claims dropped from 104,805 the last week of March to 65,654 the second week of April and 9,069 on April 14.

Williams noted that CROWE’s focus is regional and while national forecasts get a lot of attention, “the thing to note is these forecasts have generally lagged reality often significantly.” 

“But we’re still seeing increases in unemployment going on for the foreseeable future,” he said, noting his prediction of a 10 percent unemployment rate in the fall. 

“My sense is we will still see elevated unemployment for quite some time,” he said.

From a business lens, it’s estimated that 30 percent of companies are completely closed, according to Williams. Without funds, he said about 50 percent of small businesses couldn’t survive more than two months.

But he believes the state and federal relief packages will help “substantially.”

“A lot of that is really going to depend on the policy response and how effective these programs, not only the PPP but some of the other direct lending programs, are.” 

— Wisconsin banks have approved more than $7 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans, with more than 31,000 of these loans approved as of April 13. 

According to a release from the Wisconsin Bankers Association, the state is ranked 10th in the nation for both loan applications and dollars approved through the Small Business Association’s PPP program. 

“We have heard from bankers who have manually processed these loans through the night and on weekends to ensure their customers get the help they need,” said Rose Oswald Poels, president and CEO of WBA. 

Poels notes that SBA loans for all of 2019 were around $564 million in Wisconsin, while the $7 billion in new loans gained approval in just seven business days. 

WBA says the PPP program continues to face challenges, including shifting regulatory guidance and continual upgrades to the SBA portal that’s been overwhelmed with numerous inquiries. 

See the release: 

— Within hours of the Senate passing the bill unanimously, Gov. Tony Evers signed a bipartisan COVID-19 bill even as he said there’s “much more work to be done.”

After calling for the bill to speed up the signing process, Evers said the legislation provides neither hazard pay or workers comp for all frontline and critical workers nor meaningful support for small businesses and farmers.

Senate Dems yesterday tried to substitute a proposal that reflected the more than $1 billion in new state spending that Evers had previously proposed. But it was shot down along party lines before the overall bill passed 32-0.

“My pen has been waiting for weeks to sign legislation that guarantees Wisconsin will capture our fair share of federal dollars under the CARES Act and ensures workers experiencing unemployment and underemployment won’t be forced to wait an extra week for needed benefits to kick in,” Evers said. “This bill is finally a step in the right direction, but there is much more work to be done.”

The final action on the bill comes as the state faced a deadline later this month to change eligibility requirements for the Medicaid program to qualify for additional federal funding. The bill

also would set up the state for more federal money for the unemployment program.

Other key provisions include giving the Joint Finance Committee new powers to move around state money to pay for COVID-19 expenses and reducing the minimum training hours required to qualify as a certified nursing assistant.

See more at 

— Wisconsin deaths have climbed to 182 as a result of COVID-19, with 105 of them in Milwaukee County, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

That’s 12 more deaths statewide since Tuesday and 166 new confirmed cases, which result in a cumulative case count of 3,721. Of those confirmed cases, 29 percent have been hospitalized, according to DHS.

Counties reporting the most deaths are Milwaukee (105), Dane (13), Waukesha (10) and Ozaukee (9).

Racine County reports six deaths. 

Kenosha, Rock and Sauk counties report four deaths each. Fond du Lac and Washington counties report three deaths each.

Outagamie, Sheboygan and Walworth counties report two deaths each.

Adams, Brown, Buffalo, Columbia, Dodge, Door, Grant, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, Marathon, Marinette, Waupaca and Winnebago counties report one death each.

Twenty percent of patients who have tested positive for coronavirus are between the ages of 50-59. This is followed by people 60-69 (18 percent) and 40-49 (16 percent).

Over 95 percent of patients who die from COVID-19 are over the age of 50. 

In Wisconsin, women make up 54 percent of the confirmed cases, but account for 40 percent of deaths. Meanwhile, men make up 46 percent of confirmed cases, but account for 60 percent of the total deaths. 

The African American community makes up 25 percent of the state’s confirmed cases, but account for 39 percent of deaths due to COVID-19. 

Click here for coronavirus resources and information: 

— Wisconsin saw a loss of $631 million in travel spending from March 9 to April 4, according to Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of Visit Milwaukee. 

During a webinar hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Williams-Smith noted hotel occupancy in Milwaukee has fallen as low as 23.3 percent, which is nearly 70 percent lower than at this point last year. 

As of April 12, she said 34 conventions booked through Visit Milwaukee and scheduled to take place at the Wisconsin Center or other partner hotels in Milwaukee have been canceled. And another 16 events have postponed and are looking for dates to reschedule. 

“These events represent a combined estimated loss in economic impact of over $47 million, and an estimated loss of over 61,000 room nights,” she said. 

Multiplying that by the average rate for hotel rooms last year, Williams-Smith estimates area hotels are losing out on $7 million in direct spending. She noted 16 hotels in the city have suspended their operations, and many more are running limited operations. 

But even amid these dire numbers, Williams-Smith sees potential for a revival of leisure travel by car before airlines see a resurgence. She says regional travel is expected to rebound more quickly than other types of travel, and that could mean more tourism dollars flowing in Wisconsin. 

“That’s what we’ll be focusing on as we move forward,” she said. “People will be looking for transformational travel — traveling for weddings, family gatherings, anything where they can have people connections.” 

— WEDC has named Kellian Blasek as the first director of the agency’s new Office of Rural Prosperity, which aims to give extra support to rural communities in the state. 

“Even as WEDC concentrates on helping the entire state’s economy recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to give special attention to our rural communities that were already experiencing huge challenges before the outbreak,” said WEDC chief Missy Hughes. 

In his February State of the State address, Gov. Tony Evers called for the creation of the new office within WEDC to help state residents navigate resources for rural businesses and workers alike. 

The release shows Blasek is currently staff counsel for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, and has worked on numerous agriculture policy projects there and at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. She’s also a Wisconsin native, having grown up on her family’s farm in Bangor. 

See the release: 

— The Wisconsin Technology Council recently announced the 28 finalists of the 17th annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

“It will be young companies such as those advancing in this year’s contest that will help lead the economic recovery once COVID-19 recedes in Wisconsin and elsewhere,” Tech Council Chairman Greg Lynch said in a statement. “Our class of 2020 includes finalists in life sciences, advanced manufacturing, consumer products and IT, making them a microcosm of Wisconsin’s’ strengths.”

The Tech Council will pick “The Diligent Dozen” in late May, and each company will give an oral presentation at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference on a digital platform in June.

See more at Madison Startups: 

See contest details: 


# Advocates raise alarm about migrant worker safety amid COVID-19

# Wisconsin SBA lenders rank 10th for approved PPP loans in the country

# Making a difference: Madison makers build safety equipment for frontlines of COVID-19 fight

# Committee running Democratic convention in Milwaukee spent $3M through February — here’s how



– Hunger Task Force commits $1 million to provide relief for dairy farmers, milk to food pantries

– Wisconsin FFA State Convention postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19 outbreak

– More Wisconsin farms filing for bankruptcy in 2020


– Wisconsin companies get $7.2 billion in payroll loans – 10th-highest in U.S.


– Wisconsin DWD could start sending extra $600 in unemployment compensation by end of April


– Edgewood College announces $500,000 fund for student pandemic relief


– Study: Human waste continues to contaminate private wells in southwest Wisconsin

– More wells near Marinette have harmful chemicals


– Southeastern Wisconsin hospitals still have ICU, ventilator capacity

– Mental health care providers turn to telemedicine during pandemic

– Wisconsin health care workers demand PPE, sick leave, hazard pay

– Wisconsin health care workers call for more gloves, masks


– Harley-Davidson’s acting CEO, board will forgo salary and cash compensation

– Ajita Rajendra to retire as A.O. Smith executive chairman


– Twin Disc CEO John Batten has seen downturns before, but this one is different

– Molson Coors launches new wine spritzers nationwide and enters new CBD partnership in Colorado


– Evers signs pandemic relief legislation despite misgivings

– Tony Evers signs ‘imperfect’ COVID-19 response package

– Rep. Kind wants answers from USDA over dairy aid


– American Friction Welding moves to new facility in Waukesha


– DFW CEO sees recent changes in consumer buying trends


– German automation firm to open Milwaukee office at Global Water Center


– Irish Fest and Mexican Fiesta plan for scheduled August dates


– Stimulus providing $83 million to Wisconsin airports


– WEC Energy’s Klappa: Utility sees drop in energy use, ‘smart’ reopening of economy important

– We Energies, WPS committing $1 million to COVID relief


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

Altruize: New app helps students spread hope during the COVID-19 pandemic

UW-Madison: Researchers tracking travel, social media to help contain coronavirus