TUE AM News: Home sales surge as mortgage rates hit all-time low; WHEDA grants $1M to 41 housing organizations

— Existing home sales continued to surge in Wisconsin as mortgage rates hit a new record low in November, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association’s latest monthly analysis. 

The home sales report shows Wisconsin on a record pace for sales while continued low inventory levels pushed home prices even higher. 

November home sales increased 15.2 percent compared to their levels 12 months earlier, and the median price increased 15.8 percent to $223,000. 

An evaluation of the year-to-date figures reveals that sales are up 5.7 percent compared to the first 11 months of 2019. And the median price has increased 11.4 percent to $220,000 compared to that same period last year.

WRA Chairman Steve Beers said record-low mortgage rates have been the driver of sales all year. He noted November is the eighth consecutive month in which the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit a new record low. November’s rate is nearly a full percentage point below the rate for November 2019 and almost 2 percentage points lower than two years earlier. 

“With lower rates, buyers can either lower their monthly payment or they can step up to a larger home for a given payment,” Beers said. 

Read the full story at WisBusiness.com: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2020/home-sales-surge-as-mortgage-rates-hit-all-time-low/ 

— Once the COVID-19 vaccine has been widely distributed, the economy will have more robust economic growth, said Marquette University economist David Clark.

“In the immediate aftermath of economic lockdowns to control the spread of the virus, there were predictions of a V-shaped economic recovery,” he said. “The 33.1 percent bounce during the third quarter of real … GDP would seem to support that claim.”

But the fourth quarter has shaped up to have more normal growth rather than a continued momentum of the third quarter bounce, added Clark, who is also a consultant to the WRA.

The New York Federal Reserve Bank indicates that its real-time prediction of real GDP growth for the fourth quarter is currently around 2.5 percent, he said. 

— Forty-one organizations statewide will share some $1 million from the WHEDA Foundation as they work to provide emergency shelter, transitional residences and low-income housing.

The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority Foundation grants improve housing for disabled people, domestic abuse survivors, people with chronic mental illness, those with “extremely” low incomes and homeless youth.

WHEDA CEO Joaquín Altoro said this year’s award of $1.04 million will create or improve 845 beds and housing units across the state, adding the investments also support economic recovery by creating construction jobs. Providers in 23 counties received awards ranging from $2,142 to $40,000. The competition uses no state tax dollars. 

“By working with nonprofit and other local partners, the WHEDA Foundation leverages their expertise and builds capacity throughout Wisconsin,” Altoro said. “This marks the 36th year the WHEDA Foundation has provided financial support through the housing grant program. This year’s grants will expand the supply of safe, affordable housing for people with special needs as well as for individuals and families negatively impacted by the pandemic.”

WHEDA received 65 applications through the housing grant competition this year totaling over $2 million funding requests. WHEDA says this is an indication of the high demand and need in Wisconsin. 

Winning proposals include purchasing a new shelter in Beaver Dam, a new security system at a shelter in Merrill, and a new roof at a multifamily housing property in Chilton; rehabbing vacant homes to provide low-income housing in Janesville; and upgrading five shelter bathrooms to meet American with Disabilities Act standards in La Crosse.

— The Wisconsin Startup Coalition is pleased with Congress moving on a federal COVID-19 relief package that includes additional Paycheck Protection Program stimulus. 

But WSC said the language could be adjusted to prioritize support for startup companies based on their job creation initiatives.

Co-founder Matt Cordio told WisBusiness.com the PPP eligibility should include projected job growth and measures that would hold companies receiving  those funds accountable for achieving that growth.

WSC is a nonprofit founded this year to advocate for the improvement of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Wisconsin. The coalition is made up of members representing startup founders, investors, universities and other stakeholders.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted countless businesses, and startups are no exception,” the coalition wrote advocating for additional PPP funds. 

While many of the state’s businesses have had to close their doors, Wisconsin has also seen a record number of new business formations, according to WSC.

Cordio said for companies that have experienced growth, PPP needs to ensure that the additional payroll is accounted for and the company gets the full amount it’s eligible for. The previous round of PPP based loan decisions on historical payroll data did not account for companies who grew payroll in the past year, he said.

He also said it’s been tough for certain startups who have gotten venture capital. As a result, high-growth companies who have received venture capital investment, he argued, should have access to the second round of PPP.

“Startups are the leading creators of new jobs and it is imperative that we continue to fuel their growth in the midst of the pandemic,” WSC said in a release. “Further, startups are responding to the challenges created by the pandemic with new innovations in healthcare delivery, digital communication, and other impacted industries.”  

— The draft of the federal coronavirus relief bill includes a tax break for corporate meal expenses, a positive for struggling restaurants, according to the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

National reports say this provision has been pushed by the White House as the business-meals break has been denounced by congressional Democrats as the “three-martini lunch.” The deductions aim to bring more spending in restaurants, but critics say it would benefit business executives.

Dem leaders agreed to the provision in exchange for the GOP agreeing to expand tax credits for low-income families in the final package, according to a report.

But WRA President Kristine Hillmer said until the association sees the bill text, it is too early to conclusively say what is in it. The bill is expected to be 20,000 pages long, she said.

“However, we do think, from what we heard behind the scenes, the bill provides a great deal of positives to our struggling industry and will be a boost for restaurants,” she said. “Business meal deductibility is one such positive.”

With the provision, those who participate in business meals can spend more at the restaurants as they will be able to take them as business deductions fully, versus at a 50 percent rate, Hillmer explained.

“Right now it is rumor and as always, the devil is in the details,” she said.

— Also in the bill is language that would make the current federal excise tax rates for beer, wine and spirits makers permanent. 

Alcohol artisans had been bracing for excise tax increases Jan. 1 after having lower tax rates since 2018. 

If Congress had not acted, the current excise tax rate for small breweries would have doubled on Jan. 1, explained Wisconsin Brewers Guild Executive Director Mark Garthwaite.  

He added the tax provisions in the bill have long had bipartisan and majority support in both the House and Senate. Garthwaite praised efforts from the entire Wisconsin congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, who supported the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act. According to Garthwaite, the provisions “provide much needed certainty during very uncertain times.” 

The federal COVID-19 relief package provides a “lifeline” for small Wisconsin breweries, which have faced significant economic harm as a result of the pandemic, he said. 

“The additional PPP funds are critical for keeping employees on the payroll, to continue making necessary payments, and to help weather the storm until it’s safe to fully reopen our taprooms to the public,” Garthwaite said.

— Gov. Tony Evers sent GOP legislative leaders a bill that would allow out-of-state health care providers to temporarily work in Wisconsin, give Joint Finance the power to pull together $100 million to pay for public health costs and ensure SeniorCare covers vaccinations.

Evers wrote in a letter to incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, that he preferred a more far-reaching bill that would include provisions such a moratorium on evictions and easing work search requirements for those who have lost their jobs so they qualify for unemployment.

But with time running out on 2020, he described the legislation as a representation of the compromises the three have agreed to in their talks on a COVID bill.

He also sent a second bill that he asked them to keep discussing with their caucuses. It includes the $466 million that Evers had earlier proposed to cover costs of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing through the first quarter of 2021 along with money for small businesses.

The offices of LeMahieu and Vos didn’t return calls yesterday seeking comment. Republicans have shown no signs of meeting before year’s end, and LeMahieu has said in past interviews his caucus has ruled out a return for a lame-duck session.

“Wisconsinites are demanding and deserve the legislature to reconvene and pass legislation that addresses the continuing needs of our response to COVID-19,” Evers wrote. “I agree, and I hope at the very least this first compromise bill will be sent to my desk quickly and without delay, even if it means meeting during the next two weeks, and remain hopeful it will only be the first of several bills passed by the Legislature to support our state’s continued response to this pandemic.”

Evers had been scheduled to meet yesterday with the GOP leaders. But his letter indicated it “does not look like our schedules are going to align to meet again before Christmas.”

The bill Evers described as the package of compromises included provisions such as:

*allowing Joint Finance to pull $100 million from other appropriations if the committee can find “that unnecessary duplication of functions can be eliminated, more efficient and effective methods for performing programs will result, or legislative intent will be more effectively carried out because of the transfer,” according to the bill summary. A similar provision was in the bill Vos released earlier this month, though LeMahieu told WisPolitics.com last week the outline of the bill his caucus was working on didn’t include any appropriations.

*requiring Health Services to reimburse hospitals through the Medical Assistance program for providing nursing-facility-level custodial care. The proposal comes as hospitals have had trouble finding nursing homes that have the staff and beds to accept patients that need acute care.

*requiring Workforce Development to publish a plan within 30 days of the bill taking effect to address the backlog of unemployment claims. The agency also would be required to extend hours for the unemployment call center to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, until the number of weekly claims in process were at levels comparable to the first two months of 2020.

*ensuring SeniorCare covers the cost of vaccinations. The COVID-19 bill signed into law earlier this year included a provision related to vaccinations through the program. The bill would clarify the costs would have to be covered even if a federal waiver wasn’t approved.

*prohibiting insurers from requiring prior authorization for early refills of a prescription drug. The COVID-19 bill earlier this year included a similar provision, but it expired after the guv’s original public health emergency declaration expired.

The bill doesn’t include any new powers for the guv to issue mandates such as requiring a mask in public.

Read the letter: 


Read the compromise bill: https://www.wispolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/201221Compromise.pdf 

— The second bill Evers sent to lawmakers would give the Department of Health Services the power to ban evictions or foreclosures before July 1.

Vos, who owns a string of rental properties, has expressed opposition to such a proposal.

In Evers’ letter, he asked the leaders to continue conversations with their caucuses about those proposals.

“While it is clear from our meetings that your caucuses are unwilling to include them in this initial package, the fact remains these items are necessary,” Evers wrote.

That bill includes a provision that would continue a waiver of the one-week delay before those who qualify for unemployment can begin receiving benefits. The waiting period, implemented under former Gov. Scott Walker, was waived by the COVID bill approved this spring. It is scheduled to go back into effect in early February. The bill would extend that suspension until July 3.

The bill also includes a provision that would presume critical workers infected with COVID-19 contracted the disease through their employment. The presumption could be rebutted by evidence it was contracted outside of their jobs.

The second bill also included provisions such as the $466 million Evers earlier proposed to cover the costs of testing and contact tracing, along with $75 million for small businesses.

Read the bill with other items, including the $541 million in spending: https://www.wispolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/201221Proposal.pdf 

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# One of the last locally-owned pubs on the West Side says goodbye 


# UW System campuses may serve as COVID-19 vaccine distribution hubs 


# CDC Agrees: Frontline Meat & Poultry Workers High Priority for COVID-19 Vaccination https://www.midwestfarmreport.com/2020/12/21/cdc-agrees-frontline-meat-poultry-workers-high-priority-for-covid-19-vaccination/ 



– Tauchen Re-Appointed Chair of Assembly Ag Committee http://www.wisconsinagconnection.com/story-state.php?Id=1341&yr=2020 

– Cropp Issues Final Dairy Situation & Outlook Report of 2020 http://www.wisconsinagconnection.com/story-state.php?Id=1342&yr=2020 

– USDA, NASA Sign Agreement to Improve Agricultural, Earth Science Research https://www.midwestfarmreport.com/2020/12/21/usda-nasa-sign-agreement-to-improve-agricultural-earth-science-research/ 


– UW leader pledges return to in-person learning this spring https://apnews.com/article/madison-wisconsin-coronavirus-pandemic-2183de13603f8091c1feb8 

– Is It Time For Schools To Resume In-Person Classes? https://www.wpr.org/it-time-schools-resume-person-classes 


– Congress Extends Funding For Clean Up Efforts On The Great Lakes https://www.wpr.org/congress-extends-funding-clean-efforts-great-lakes 


– Congress nears deal on new PPP loans. Here’s who would qualify, for how much, and what the rules would be. https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2020/12/21/ppp-loan-second-congress-stimulus-covid.html 

– New stimulus deal includes $15B for entertainment venues, museums and zoos https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2020/12/21/congress-stimulus-venue-grant-ppp.html 


– Foxconn negotiations weigh value of state incentives against flexibility for future operations https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2020/12/21/foxconn-talks-weight-value-of-incentives-over-flex.html 


– Wisconsin Continues To See Decline In New COVID-19 Cases https://www.wpr.org/wisconsin-continues-see-decline-new-covid-19-cases 

– CVS to begin vaccinations at Wisconsin senior living facilities after Christmas https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2020/12/21/cvs-to-begin-vaccinating-wisconsin-senior-living.html 


– A Wisconsin Hospital Promised To Stop Suing Most Patients During The Pandemic. Then It Filed 200 Lawsuits. https://www.wpr.org/wisconsin-hospital-promised-stop-suing-most-patients-during-pandemic-then-it-filed-200-lawsuits 

– Ousted Milwaukee Police Chief Prepared To File Federal Lawsuit https://www.wpr.org/ousted-milwaukee-police-chief-prepared-file-federal-lawsuit 


– Rockwell’s Blake Moret to headline Economic Trends event https://biztimes.com/rockwells-blake-moret-to-headline-economic-trends-event/ 


– Auctioning off a dead mall https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2020/12/21/auctioning-off-a-dead-mall.html 


– Viewpoints: More Wisconsin startups to watch in 2021 https://biztimes.com/viewpoints-more-wisconsin-startups-to-watch-in-2021/ 


– The antitrust case against Big Tech, shaped by tech industry exiles https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2020/12/21/big-tech-antitrust-case-tech-industry.html 


– To achieve clean water and thriving farms in Wisconsin, it’s time for bold action https://www.wisbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/201221-DBA.pdf 


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