THU AM News: About 22,000 union workers, retirees in Wisconsin to benefit from federal funding for pension fund; Application period open for broadband grants

— About 22,000 union workers and retirees in Wisconsin are expected to benefit from a $36 billion federal award being announced today for the Central States Pension Fund. 

This funding from the American Rescue Plan Act’s Special Financial Assistance Program represents the largest award of federal financial support in history for worker and retiree pensions, according to a fact sheet from the White House. 

In a call with reporters yesterday, federal officials said the funding will protect more than 350,000 union workers and retirees from having their pension benefits cut by about 60 percent in the coming years. With the additional funding, the Central States Pension Fund says it will be paying full benefits to these beneficiaries through 2051.

Workers included in the Central States Pension Fund include truck drivers, warehouse workers, construction workers and food processors. Those impacted by the new funding are located in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Texas, Tennessee and Florida, the fact sheet shows. 

“One cannot underestimate the significance of this assistance for the basic economic security and dignity for union workers in their retirement years,” American Rescue Plan Coordinator and Senior Advisor to the President Gene Sperling said on yesterday’s call. 

He said the expected pension benefits cuts would have resulted in an average decline of $10,000 per year. Sperling added the new funding will help affected workers and retirees “be a support to their children and grandchildren instead of a burden on them.” 

— State officials have announced the application period for the latest round of broadband expansion grants will run from now through Feb. 22. 

A total of $14.1 million in grant funding is available, according to a release from the state Public Service Commission. That’s the last of the state funds available for this purpose during the 2021-23 biennial budget period. 

The state’s broadband expansion grant program aims to connect more residents with high-speed internet. The PSC says state and federal dollars allocated to the program since 2019 “have connected or are in the process of connecting” over 387,000 homes and businesses with broadband service. 

The Wisconsin Broadband Office estimates 650,000 state residents still lack the infrastructure needed for this service, while another 650,000 can’t afford it. That’s from this year’s report by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access. 

PSC Chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq says this round of grants “will equip our partners with the necessary support and resources to improve internet access in underserved areas of the state.” 

See more details at the PSC site: 

See the task force report: 

— Total assets at state-chartered banks in Wisconsin declined slightly over the year ending Sept. 30, while state-chartered credit unions saw an increase over the same period. 

That’s according to the latest reports from the state Department of Financial Institutions, which show bank assets in Wisconsin fell from $67.8 billion at the end of September 2021 to $67.1 billion at the end of September 2022. 

Meanwhile, total credit union assets rose by $3.7 billion to $59.6 billion at the end of the third quarter of this year. 

DFI Secretary-designee Cheryll Olson-Collins notes interest rates continue to rise and “economic uncertainty persists,” but both banks and credit unions in the state remain financially stable. 

See the agency’s release on banks: 

See more on credit union finances: 

— DATCP is awarding $1 million in conservation grant funding to 43 farm organizations for 2023, the agency announced. 

These “producer-led watershed protection grants” aim to encourage efforts by farmers to improve soil and water quality in Wisconsin. Since the state began funding the grant program in the 2015-17 budget, eight rounds of grants have been awarded, according to DATCP. 

For this funding cycle, 45 applicants requested grants totaling over $1.5 million — the largest amount requested since the program began, the agency says. Grants in this round range from $10,000 to about $38,000. 

See a map of where watershed protection groups are located in the state: 

See the release: 

— Applications are now open for a program providing $2 million in rental assistance for military veterans in Wisconsin. 

In a release yesterday, Gov. Tony Evers said the “last thing our veterans should have to worry about” is whether they can afford housing. 

“We have to keep working to ensure our veterans have access to affordable housing, mental and behavioral health services, and the education and skills training they need to be successful in civilian life,” the guv said. 

The income eligibility level for the program is 80 percent of the county median income, according to the release.

It will be managed by the Department of Administration’s Division of Energy, Housing and Community Resources with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

See the release: 

<br><b><i>Top headlines from the Health Care Report … </b></i> 

— The seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin has risen slightly, reaching 991 cases per day at latest count. 

And the Department of Public Instruction has released survey data showing nearly half of the students who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual had seriously considered attempting suicide in the year before the survey was conducted.

<i>For more of the most relevant news on COVID-19, reports on groundbreaking health research in Wisconsin, links to top stories and more, sign up today for the free daily Health Care Report from and</i>

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