MON AM News: Corporate collections boost state GPR; Pechacek appointed DWD secretary as agency resolved backlog

— Corporate collections rose 72.6 percent to date in fiscal year 2021 compared to last year.

Despite a pandemic-induced recession, that corporate tax boost helped Wisconsin see a 5.2 percent increase in GPR collections in the first five months of the 2021 fiscal year over the previous year, according to the Department of Revenue.

November 2020 had a 4.3 percent increase over November 2019. 

Collections for the fiscal year 2021 totaled over $6.6 billion since July 1, an increase of nearly $330 million compared to the same period in the fiscal year 2020. Nearly $1.6 billion was collected in November alone, compared to more than $1.5 billion in November 2019, according to DOR’s adjusted data.

Corporate collections contributed $7.6 million.

DOR spokeswoman Patty Mayers attributed the increase in corporate collections to successful audits, an increase in audit collections, tax law changes that allowed people to file taxes at the entity level, and changes in response to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Mayers was unable to share what companies were involved in the audits. 

The second-greatest revenue increase to date in the fiscal year 2021 compared to last year were “other” sources at a 3.5 percent increase, respectively. “Other” collections can include estate, utility and real estate transfer tax collections.

Corporate and “other” revenue sources together brought in over $1 billion compared to nearly $688 million during the same period in the fiscal year 2020. 

Meanwhile, excise taxes were down 1.8 percent. This source brought in roughly $246 million compared to about $250 million during the same period last year. And individual income was down 0.3 percent but brought in the most revenue of $3.3 billion.

General sales and use revenue collections were up 0.6 percent and brought in the second-largest figure of more than $2 billion.

The DOR’s report does not include taxes collected by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, administrative fees and other miscellaneous revenues.

See the report: 

— Gov. Tony Evers has removed the interim tag from Amy Pechacek’s title as head of the Department of Workforce Development.

She’s spent the last three months leading the agency’s efforts to resolve the backlog of regular unemployment claims. 

Evers announced Pechacek’s appointment as DWD said it considers the backlog resolved because all remaining relevant eligibility issues over 21 days old have been assigned for adjudication. Pre-pandemic, issue resolution was considered timely if completed within 21 days of it being detected.

Pechacek was the deputy Corrections secretary when Evers announced she would lead the department as it transitioned to a new leader following the departure of Caleb Frostman. Evers forced Frostman to resign after being frustrated by the lack of significant progress on the backlog despite the state nearly tripling the number of people working to take and process claims. At the time, more than 100,000 people were still awaiting checks.

Since March 15, DWD has processed nearly 8.8 million weekly claims. By comparison, the agency handled 7.2 million between 2016-2019, according to the agency.

Republicans have repeatedly criticized Evers for the lack of progress in resolving the backlog. The guv recently told that he expected it to be resolved by year’s end.

“The DWD has faced historic levels of claims, hindered by antiquated technology and burdensome bureaucracy created by those who always intended to make it harder for folks to access these vital benefits,” Evers said. “Despite these obstacles, Amy has been exceptional, and I am grateful she will be able to continue her good work in the months and years ahead.”

See the Evers release on Pechacek’s appointment: 

See the DWD release on the backlog: 

— DWD plans to update its application questions for UI applications in March, making it easier for Wisconsin residents to file for benefits. 

The agency has updated the questions to feature “plain language” as much as possible — understandable to all individuals who are likely to use the UI application process, regardless of educational background or regional/cultural language differences. It also aims to ensure application and question clarity. 

The changes would speed up the process and prevent unintentional errors that would prompt investigation and delay the claim from being processed. 

“DWD is making sure that the questions asked of claimants are clear and concise so that people who are applying can answer questions completely and accurately on the front end,” Pechacek said “Updating the application will not only help our customers but also improve UI operations.” 

The agency is seeking public input on the draft application questions here: The deadline to submit a comment is Friday. 

The department will review and incorporate all feedback before it begins the necessary IT programming in February. It plans to post the updated web applications in March.

— Wisconsin has administered over 47,000 vaccines, according to the Department of Health Services.  

DHS’ latest update from Monday evening shows 40,850 Pfizer vaccines and 6,306 Moderna vaccines administered. DHS will pull the past week’s data tonight and update its vaccine dashboard tomorrow afternoon.

The state has been allocated 265,575 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the federal government. The doses are based on Wisconsin’s population size compared to other states. 

DHS tells the federal government where to send the vaccines — 156,875 vaccines have been shipped to the state. Pfizer doses go to designated hubs, which are then distributed to spike vaccine locations throughout Wisconsin. Moderna doses get sent directly to vaccine locations.

— Three counties are reporting “critically high” COVID-19 activity, down from seven counties last week.

These are Pepin County, which borders Minnesota, Jackson, also located on the western side of the state, and northeastern Menominee County. The counties have a case burden greater than 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents. 

That’s nearly three times higher than the “very high” category of which 65 Wisconsin counties belong with a threshold of 350 confirmed cases for every 100,000 residents.

The remaining four counties — Florence, Iron, Marquette and Waushara — fall into the “high” case burden. That the most counties to fall below the upper burden categories since early October. The “high” burden’s threshold is greater than 100 cases.

— Data on DHS’ coronavirus dashboard show Christmas Day was a turning point for COVID-19 case averages and positive test percentages.

On Dec. 25, the percentage of people with a positive test and the percentage of positive tests started increasing. The seven-day average for people who tested positive for COVID-19 out of the total people tested is 31 percent. On Christmas Day, it was at a recent low of 24.1 percent, matching levels of mid-October. 

The seven-day average for positive tests per total tests collected is 10.8 percent. On Dec. 25, it was another recent low of 8 percent, a figure last seen in mid-September. 

Yesterday, Wisconsin reported 2,446 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the seven-day average of daily confirmed cases to 2,244. The average has been increasing since Dec. 26, which marked a low of 1,882. It’s been more than three months since the seven-day average was that low. 

However, the Badger State has yet to shake a poor national reputation. According to the CDC, Wisconsin ranks No. 3 for its case rate per population since Jan. 21, 2020. Its rate is 8,994 per 100,000 people. The state follows only the Dakotas. 

Wisconsin has had 486,531 COVID-19 cases; 26,670 of the cases are currently “active,” according to DHS. 

— The state also reported five COVID-19 deaths going into today. This brought the total to 4,875 deaths. 

Since the last summary, 320 Wisconsinites have passed away from coronavirus. 

The seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths is 26 deaths per day. That’s the lowest the average has been since Oct. 23. 

The month before 2021, Milwaukee County added the most COVID-19 deaths to its count. Since Dec. 1, the county reported 238 people had died — 85 more deaths than it reported in the month of November. 

Waukesha recorded the second-highest amount of 141 deaths — 63 more deaths than November. 

As of yesterday, 30 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties experienced over 40 deaths. Of those counties, Dane County had the greatest percent increase since Dec. 1. Its death toll more than doubled from 81 deaths on Dec. 1 to 182 deaths yesterday.  

Walworth County followed with an over 44 percent increase, going from 53 to 95 deaths. Waukesha and Dodge counties’ tolls both grew nearly 41 percent to 344 and 125 deaths respectively. 

Counties reporting the most COVID-19 deaths with their tolls in parenthesis are Milwaukee (984), Waukesha (344), Racine (249), Kenosha (217), Dane (182), Brown (162), Marathon (160), Outagamie (159), Winnebago (150) and Dodge (125). 

— Wisconsin will expand testing in assisted living facilities as long-term care facilities make up the most of the facility-wide COVID-19 investigations. 

The new program allows community-based residential facilities and adult family homes to opt-in for routine COVID-19 surveillance testing.

Long-term care facilities make up 883 of the 3,118 statewide public health investigations. Those facilities are reporting 1,289 COVID-19 deaths, making up 26 percent of the state’s death toll. These include nursing homes and assisted living facilities, such as community-based residential facilities and residential care apartment complexes. The average number of confirmed cases per investigation for long-term care facilities is 12.

The state has 312 active nursing home investigations. About 92 percent of confirmed COVID-19 patients who have died in the state were age 60 or older.

“The health and safety of the folks living in our assisted living facilities is of utmost concern, and our existing partnerships allow us to offer more routine testing,” Evers said. “I want to thank the testing team and our lab partners for their hard work in making this expanded testing possible.”

Wisconsin has 135 labs currently performing testing with 17 labs in the pipeline. The state’s testing capacity is 59,185 tests per day. 

“Testing is a key tool for boxing in the virus, and routine surveillance testing will give these facilities the information they need to take further action to contain the spread,” said DHS Secretary Andrea Palm.

The DHS testing team is contacting eligible facilities about the opportunity.

Click here to see the nursing homes under investigation and a breakdown of investigations by county:  

— The Department of Safety and Professional Services has issued more than 1,200 temporary licenses for health care professionals to work in Wisconsin from out-of-state.

DSPS licenses the vast majority of Wisconsin’s health care providers, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists and respiratory therapists. 

Early on in the pandemic, DSPS Secretary Dawn Crim convened a health care task force to advise on actions to bring flexibility to the health care system. This included giving pharmacists the discretion to reuse personal protective equipment, enabling drug delivery to field hospitals and clinical sites, and positioning pharmacies to facilitate vaccination efforts. 

The agency establishing new processes for handling temporary license applications for health care professionals licensed in other states supported the state efforts to quickly augment the health care workforce in anticipation of increased demand when COVID-19 cases surged. 

The department also waived late fees and implemented emergency renewals for health professionals whose licenses had expired within the past five years.

To keep the construction industry on track, DSPS developed a video inspection protocol to minimize in-person contact between customers and staff. 

The department also enhanced tutorials to help more customers transition to electronic filings, again to minimize interactions between employees and the public. DSPS worked with regulatory boards to extend deadlines when required continuing education programming was canceled at the last minute, putting some license holders in jeopardy of not meeting renewal requirements.

“We were very focused on workforce needs,” Crim said. “We knew the health care system would need flexibility to quickly add staff and to move their providers to areas of greatest need. We knew we needed to be innovative and flexible to keep construction moving without compromising safety. And we knew we needed to do what we could to keep our credential holders in good standing so they could remain in the workforce.”

The demand for careers in licensed occupations continues to grow, according to the department. DSPS processed roughly 1.15 million applications as of Dec. 7, up from just over 1.1 in 2019.

The agency plans to roll out new submission platforms for customers in the construction industry early in the spring.

Crim said the new year will include ongoing support of the state’s COVID-19 response, including actions necessary to expedite vaccination and ongoing work to limit the spread of disease. 

— Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative is urging Congress to help broaden the milk options kids have in school to include fuller-fat dairy.

The call for greater flexibility came after the federal government on Tuesday released the 2020 update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Every five years, the federal Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services released guidelines on what to eat and drink to promote health, reduce the risk of chronic disease, and meet nutrient needs.

“Edge welcomes the continued recognition of the importance of dairy in the daily diet with the release of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” said Brody Stapel, president of Edge and a Wisconsin dairy farmer. “Unfortunately, the agencies and scientific review committee missed an opportunity to address and include the newer, available science on the nutritional benefits from fuller-fat dairy and a wider array of products.”

He added the lack of recognition of the nutritional benefits from fuller-fat dairy in the new guidelines will continue to hinder the availability of these food options in schools.

— Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has filed a brief in a lawsuit now pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court involving Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC, and the Village of Plover. 

The dispute is based on the “dark store” issue, allowing local governments to assess “occupied” stores at higher values than otherwise identical “vacant” stores. WMC has led a coalition opposing these changes arguing such a change would unlawfully tax business value via the property tax.

WMC’s position is that the value of real estate is what matters, not the business occupying it.

The Village of Plover assessed the big box retail store and the store appealed that assessment. 

“Local governments must be held accountable when they overstep their authority,” said WMC attorney Lucas Vebber. “The legislature has repeatedly rejected this scheme to raise taxes on local retailers. Assessors can’t ignore the law just because they want businesses to pay more in property taxes.”

If the Supreme Court accepts the appeal, it will be heard sometime in 2021.

Read WMC’s brief: 

— The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is providing new mental health information for employers and employees managing the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new guides note that employers are in a unique position to support workers by creating an open and supportive environment that promotes healthy well-being. The guidelines provide useful resources for employers and employees to contact for additional help. In addition, both sets of guidelines suggest how to identify signs that might require further assistance as well as some strategies for how to practice self-care.

The guidelines were developed in collaboration with DHS as part of WEDC’s “Stay Safe, Stay Open” resources for small businesses. The resources also provide both general and industry-specific guidelines on how businesses can operate safely and guidance on preventing and managing a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace.

“What all of these guides really aim to do is provide actionable advice for businesses, especially small businesses, as they work to keep customers, friends, and families safe,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. “It’s important as we head through this winter that everyone stays healthy — both mentally and physically.”

The complete set of guidelines can be found here: 


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– Ron Johnson Doubles Down On Calls For Investigation Of 2020 Election In Fiery Interview 

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– InsideWis: Latest PPP round better targeted to small businesses 

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