TUE AM News: Rural Health Initiative expanding service area going into 2022; Evers announces over $205 million in ARPA funds for local governments

— The head of ThedaCare’s Rural Health Initiative hopes to provide preventative care services to hundreds more farms after the program recently expanded to cover seven Wisconsin counties. 

“I think the potential is really unlimited at this point,” Program Manager Rhonda Strebel told WisBusiness.com in a recent interview. 

Through the initiative, care providers travel to rural farms and other rural residents to conduct health screenings for factors like blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose, while also checking other factors including body mass index and risky behaviors like smoking. The program connects rural farmers with health coaching on nutrition, exercise, sleep and other factors, and can make referrals for specific issues. 

It was first launched in 2004 as a standalone program, though ThedaCare was a “major funder” from its early days, Strebel said. As of this year, the rural health initiative is now officially a part of ThedaCare. The service is complementary, with funding coming from the ThedaCare Family of Foundations. 

This summer, the program received a total of $5.5 million in new grants to facilitate expansion from three counties — Shawano, Waupaca and Outagamie — to include four more: Green Lake, Marquette, Waushara and Winnebago. 

“It will be a bit challenging, sharing the word, because this is going to be a new program, completely new to these communities,” she said. 

While some outreach has been done in Waupaca and Outagamie counties, much of the program’s efforts have focused on Shawano County, Strebel explained. In 2020, the program served 350 individuals there and conducted 311 screenings, which detected “something acute or chronic that was unmanaged” in 36 percent of those participants, she said. 

The program made 133 referrals in Shawano County in 2020, and staff helped 60 percent of those individuals find specific care providers. 

“And that’s with us being in this community for quite some time,” she said. “People need our services for a period of time, and then once we refer them and they start seeing a provider, then they don’t need our services as often, which is a good thing.” 

Staff members have been hired in the communities that will be newly served by the program, and Strebel said two of the six new hires are ready to begin making house calls. The other four are still completing their training. 

She described 2021 as an outlier year for the program, as staff were unable to make house calls for months at a time during the peak of the pandemic. But going into 2022, Strebel said she’s excited about the possibilities for serving more rural individuals “that could really use our services.” 

It took about three years for the initiative to build up its clientele in Shawano County, so Strebel expects that “it’ll take a bit” before a similar impact can be seen in the other counties served by the initiative. But thanks to the new grant funding, she expects the program could reach 40 percent of the eligible population in all seven counties within three to five years. 

“We’re hoping that this grows significantly,” she said. 

— Gov. Tony Evers has announced 1,825 local governments in the state are set to receive over $205 million in ARPA funds to support their public health response to COVID-19 and other efforts. 

The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program. Funds can be used to address the negative economic impacts of COVID-19, improve infrastructure for water, sewage and broadband, pay premiums for essential workers, replace public sector revenue losses and more. 

Funds are going to cities, towns and villages in Wisconsin with a population of less than 50,000 residents, with funding amounts varying based on population size. These government entities can decide how to spend the ARPA dollars “in line with the Treasury guidance,” the release shows. Recipients have until 2024 to commit the funds to specific uses and 2026 to spend them. 

A second round of these ARPA funds will be provided to these local government entities in 2022, doubling the amount they’ll be receiving, according to the release. 

“From addressing the public health impacts of the pandemic to investing in needed critical infrastructure, to helping ensure families and businesses financially recover, these funds will allow local governments to invest in their community’s unique needs and will make a major difference for Wisconsinites across our state,” Evers said in a statement. 

See the release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2021/gov-evers-announces-more-than-200-million-for-wisconsin-communities-through-arpa-state-and-local-fiscal-recovery-funds/ 

— Following the announcement of new U.S. air travel restrictions from eight African countries, President Biden said the newly emerged omicron COVID-19 variant “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.” 

Speaking to reporters in a briefing yesterday, Biden said “it’s almost inevitable” that the new variant will arrive in the United States at some point, and urged people to get vaccinated and receive a booster shot when eligible. 

The World Health Organization last week designated the omicron variant of COVID-19 a “variant of concern,” though details are hazy about how it compares to other variants including delta. WHO says preliminary evidence suggests the omicron variant may pose an increased risk of reinfection, though the international agency says “it is not yet clear” if the new variant is more transmissible than others, or if it causes more severe disease. 

“The best protection against this new variant or any of the variants out there … is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot,” Biden said. 

Still, he said “it will be a few weeks before we know everything we need to know” about how effective the vaccines are against the omicron variant. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president, says the current vaccines likely provide at least some protection against the new variant, and boosters reinforce that protection. 

See details from the WHO on the omicron variant: https://www.who.int/news/item/28-11-2021-update-on-omicron 

— The Wisconsin Partnership Program has announced four organizations will each be getting a five-year, $1 million grant through this year’s round of Community Impact Grant awards. 

As a permanent endowment of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, the WPP supports community-academic partnerships to address the social determinants of health. Following an application and review process, the WPP Oversight and Advisory Committee has selected the four organizations receiving funding. 

“These newly funded initiatives have the potential to catalyze change, move health forward, and meaningfully address health inequities,” said Dr. Amy Kind, chair of the committee and director of the Center for Health Disparities Research in Madison. 

Grant recipients include: 

*The FREE Campaign for the initiative Health Equity for Criminal Justice Impacted Women through Access to Housing. This program is led by Ex-incarcerated People Organizing and academic partner Lori DiPrete Brown, of the UW-Madison School of Human Ecology. This effort aims to help formerly incarcerated women and their families access housing and other resources in the Milwaukee, Madison and Chippewa Valley areas. 

*The Oneida Nation for the effort titled “Food Sovereignty in the Oneida Nation: A Comprehensive Approach to Health.” This initiative will develop programming to support “food sovereignty” and cultural identity among tribal communities, with a goal of improving health care options for indigenous peoples. Dr. Bret Benally Thompson of the Native American Center for Health Professions is the academic partner. 

*The United Community Center for the Latino Dementia Health Regional Consortium initiative, which aims to improve Alzheimer’s disease detection, diagnosis and support for Latino residents of the state’s southeastern region. Dr. Melinda Kavanaugh of UW-Milwaukee’s Helen Bader School of Social Welfare is a partner on the project. 

*The Wisconsin Hospital Association for the Wisconsin Rural Health & Substance Use Clinical Support Program. Partners in this effort to improve substance abuse care in rural areas include Wisconsin Voices for Recovery, academic partner Dr. Randall Brown of UW-Madison and WHA. 

See the release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2021/uw-madison-wisconsin-partnership-program-announces-4-million-in-awards-to-health-equity-initiatives/ 

— Public Service Commissioner Tyler Huebner says a resolution adopted by a national organization of utility regulators will provide a framework for state-level energy efficiency efforts. 

The board of directors for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners adopted the resolution earlier this month after it was sponsored by Huebner at the group’s annual conference in Kentucky. The resolution is titled: Increasing the Role of Energy Efficiency in Achieving Cost-Effective Energy Supply and Decarbonization. 

It recommends that NARUC member states, including Wisconsin, consider a number of principles as they make decisions related to energy efficiency programs and related efforts. 

Under the resolution, states and utilities are being asked to work toward decarbonization in a cost-effective manner, leverage relationships between utilities and customers to maximize program impact, design frameworks for these programs that incorporate research on energy efficiency costs and decarbonization impacts, and more. 

“This resolution outlines the foundation for how utilities, customers, advocates and regulators can work together to support innovative efficiency approaches that can save money and decrease our carbon footprint,” Huebner said in a statement. 

Gov. Tony Evers has set a goal for the state to reach 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050. Huebner says the resolution “establishes why cost-effective energy efficiency” will play a critical role in that effort. 

See the resolution: https://pubs.naruc.org/pub/48902228-1866-DAAC-99FB-936FB94C528D 

See the release: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2021/public-service-commission-of-wisconsin-commissioner-huebner-commends-naruc-for-adopting-the-2021-energy-efficiency-resolution/ 

— The Department of Administration is now accepting applications for up to $75 million in grants being provided to diverse businesses and communities in the state. 

Gov. Tony Evers announced the grant funding in October, which will be allocated through the  Diverse Business Assistance Grant Program and the Diverse Business Investment Grant Program. Each will have $37.5 million available. 

The business assistance program will support “ethnic and diverse” chambers of commerce and other organizations serving businesses that have “historically been denied access to capital” and are owned by people who have been hit hardest by the ongoing pandemic. Meanwhile, the business investment program will provide funding for community development financial institutions to offer grants to eligible small businesses. 

Funding for the grants comes from the American Rescue Plan Act. Applications will be accepted through Jan. 14, a release shows. 

See program details here: 


— Restaurants would not be on the hook for state income taxes on money they received from American Rescue Plan Act Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants, under a bill Rep. Rob Wittke authored.

The Racine Republican in an email told WisPolitics.com AB 717 aims to mirror federal legislation exempting restaurants from paying federal income taxes on money they received from the ARPA Restaurant Revitalization Fund. A Wittke aide also said the bill was not drafted to help Wisconsin’s tourism and hospitality industry, though it would effectively ease some of the financial burden the pandemic placed on that industry.

Wittke said he’s proud to have worked with the Wisconsin Restaurant Association on the bill.

“AB 717 would conform state and federal income and franchise tax law treatment of RRF grants. And at a time when our state is improving economically, too many small businesses, specifically restaurants, continue to struggle,” Wittke said. “I believe we must do as much as possible to help them recover.”

The Ways and Means Committee is set to hear public comment on the bill today.

Wisconsin Independent Businesses, Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association and Association of Wisconsin Tourism Attractions registered in favor. No groups have registered against the bill so far.

The bill would decrease general purpose revenue in FY2022 by about $15.6 million, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis. It would also reduce GPR by $7.5 million in FY2023 and $4.1 million in FY2024, according to the LFB analysis.

See more on the bill: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/proposals/ab717


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– Fotsch Family Foundation matching donations up to $1 million for United for Waukesha Community Fund


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– NFL announces partnership with UW-Madison to study head impacts using mouthguards



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