Month: May 2020

A Glimmer of Good News on Unemployment in Wisconsin

It is hard to find much, if any, good news in the data on Wisconsin’s labor market since mid-March.

Initial unemployment claims skyrocketed to 51,000 in the third week of March and then more than doubled to almost 111,000 the next week.

What’s the good news? The number of continuing claims has trended downward since hitting that peak. Even better news is that it saw its largest drop yet last week, a 5.1% decline from the prior week to reach 292,699.

The drop comes in the first full week after the state’s Safer at Home order was struck down by a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, allowing many businesses to reopen depending on their local rules.

Governor Announces $200 Million “Routes to Recovery: Local Government Aid Grants Program”

Yesterday, Governor Tony Evers announced the launch of the “Routes to Recovery: Local Government Aid Grants” program, a $200 million effort aimed at helping local leaders address some of their most urgent and unique COVID-19 recovery needs. Administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA), Routes to Recovery Grants will be allocated to every Wisconsin county, city, village, town and federally recognized tribe.

The effort is funded by $200 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars. Of the $200 million, $10 million will be allocated to Wisconsin’s tribal nations, with the remaining funds being distributed to every Wisconsin county, city, village and town.

Routes to Recovery Grants for Wisconsin counties, cities, villages and towns will provide reimbursements for unbudgeted expenditures incurred this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the following categories:

  • Emergency operations activities, including those related to public health, emergency services, and public safety response
  • Purchases of personal protective equipment
  • Cleaning/sanitizing supplies and services, including those related to elections administration
  • Temporary isolation housing for infected or at-risk individuals
  • Testing and contact tracing costs above those covered by existing State programs
  • FMLA and sick leave for public health and safety employees to take COVID-19 precautions
  • Meeting local match requirements for expenses submitted for reimbursement by FEMA, to the extent allowed by federal law

WEDC Announces the Main Street Marketplace

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation announced Tuesday a new online retail portal called the Main Street Marketplace, which is available now to connect shoppers with more than 230 Main Street businesses across Wisconsin.

The website provides a database of locally owned shops across Wisconsin. Shoppers can choose to search by geography or by product category on the site The Main Street Marketplace was created to help businesses affected by the pandemic who have difficulty updating customers on changes in product availability.

To be listed, the shops must be in one of the 34 Wisconsin Main Street communities. Additional offerings will be added in the future.

Wisconsin Main Street is a community development program administered by the WEDC that targets Wisconsin’s historic commercial districts with a goal to revitalize their business districts.

To visit the online portal, visit:

Wisconsin Order Halting Evictions Expires Tuesday

Those who haven’t been able to pay rent during the pandemic could be facing eviction, starting this week.

A state order halting evictions expires Tuesday. Landlords whose tenants have not been paying rent, can file eviction notices.

Meanwhile, Gov. Tony Evers announced a $25 million rent assistance program last week, to help those in need.

The state has the federal money now, but officials are still setting up the program to share it

“Early next month we believe that money will be accessible by the folks that need it,” Gov. Evers said Wednesday.

The Evers administration says when the program is ready, renters will be able to apply through local housing assistance organizations. If eligible, they could qualify for up to $3,000.

Economy Sliding, But Home Purchase Costs Rising

As Wisconsin moved into the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy fell in April, an odd thing happened in the real estate market: home prices rose.

The Wisconsin Realtors Association releases monthly sales and price numbers. Consulting economist David Clark says existing home sales fell nearly seven percent in April, compared to April 2019. Realtors expected with the economy slumping the market would fall. But Clark says tightening numbers of homes for sale drove the median price up about 7 percent over the past year.

He says the tight inventory won out…

“While there’s a balancing act here, it looks like the ‘supply effect’, the significant reduction in the number of homes for sale continued to put upward pressure on prices….”

Clark says the peak sales times are May through August so the slumping economy will likely lead to a slower summer sales time. But if buyers are interested and can find a property, it’s a good time to finance…

“This is about the best time in the last 50 years to get a mortgage. Mortgage rates dropped to the lowest levels since we started tracking 30-year fixed rate mortgage data back in 1971…”

Current mortgage rates are around three percent.

Governor Announces $50 million Relief for Farmers, $15 million for Food Security Initiative

Wisconsin’s governor has announced $50 million in relief for Wisconsin farmers and $15 million food security initiative.

In a Wednesday release, Governor Tony Evers announced the Wisconsin Farm Support Program, a $50 million investment to provide direct payments to Wisconsin farmers in support of the agriculture sector during the coronavirus pandemic and a $15 million Food Security Initiative to combat hunger in the state.

Eligible farmers will be asked to apply for the aid through the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, which is working in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Farm support payments could begin arriving as early as June.

A  portion of the $15 million funding for the Food Security Initiative will go toward helping food banks, pantries, and other nonprofit organizations fighting food insecurity adapt to challenges posed by the coronavirus. The initiative will emphasize the importance of prioritizing the use of Wisconsin products wherever possible in feeding citizens who find themselves in need of support. Applicants are strongly encouraged to partner with local food experts to aid in connecting with farmers in their area.

DWD Detects, Prevents Fraud Against UI Program

DWD has identified 342 unsuccessful attempts to access the system with a stolen social security number as of May 15. Out of the 1.4 million claims totaling more than $1.1 billion that the Department has paid since March 15, DWD has flagged 171 claims as potential fraud with payments estimated to be around $26,000.

The instances of fraud that began in late March involve an individual using another’s identity in an attempt to claim benefits on their behalf.

The bad actors have stolen personal information from sources outside of the agency, such as from massive external data breaches like the Equifax breach, and then use it to apply for benefits and attempt to route those payments to their own bank accounts. DWD’s anti-fraud team recognizes this imposter fraud from past attacks on the system.

“While DWD has a litany of tools at its disposal to detect fraud against the program and will continue to diligently defend the UI trust fund,” Frostman said, “we ask for the public’s assistance in reporting any suspected instances of fraud, such as if you receive mail incorrectly indicating you have applied for UI benefits.”

The public can learn more about how to recognize and report suspected fraud at

Wisconsin Hospitals More Prepared for COVID-19 Surge, WHA President Says

There’s a “night and day difference” between Wisconsin hospitals’ readiness to handle a potential surge in COVID-19 cases today compared to two months ago, said Eric Borgerding, president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

As they resume non-urgent services and primary care appointments, health care providers are prepared to respond to a potential future wave of COVID-19 inpatients, he said.

To date, Wisconsin hospitals have not experienced extreme capacity surges during the pandemic, which public health leaders largely credit to the effectiveness of social distancing measures.

The rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations has remained largely steady over the past month, at about 350 patients, he noted. As of Monday morning, there were 379 COVID-19 inpatients in the state, up from 356 COVID-19 on Friday. Hospital leaders have said the region saw its peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations in mid-April.

Moving forward, Borgerding said, WHA will continue to monitor the number of COVID-19 inpatients as a key indicator of the stress the coronavirus is putting on hospitals’ capacity.

Governor Evers Says It’s Now Up to the People to Take Precautions Against COVID-19

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said there would be no “grand bargain” with Republican legislative leaders after they won a lawsuit striking down his administration’s extended COVID-19 safer-at-home order.

Evers talked with Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald the day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the extended order, and he said he plans another discussion with them this week.

“I know there’s this feeling that there’s going to be this grand bargain found, but I don’t see that happening,” Evers said in an interview aired Sunday on “UPFRONT.”

“Maybe we can come up with some things that could be helpful, but they said no restrictions. So for example, if we decided we don’t want 50 people in a small office, that’s probably a bad idea, but that is off limits. And they control this process,” Evers said.

He said he hoped they could find some agreement on what could be accomplished in the event of another surge in COVID-19.

Evers said it’s now up to people to take their own precautions against novel coronavirus.

Governor Makes Next Move in Allowing DHS to Craft New Emergency Rule

Less than 24 hours after the state Supreme Court quashed the Department of Health Services’ extension of the state’s ‘Safer at Home’ order, thereby ending all the restrictions it placed on residents and businesses, Gov. Tony Evers moved to restore the emergency powers to his health agency.

Evers took the first step Thursday, when he released the framework for the rule change, a so-called Statement of Scope, that will be put forth for public input starting Monday.

The agency is tasked with two goals, limiting the spread of COVID-19 to healthy Wisconsinites, i.e. the “boxing in” phase of the Badger Bounce Back plan, and reopening the business sector without jeopardizing long-term economic growth by risking a second wave of the virus.

Following the ten-day public comment period, DHS officials will take the feedback provided and draft its proposed rule.

Once that 10-day period is over, DHS can publish the rule, going into effect immediately. However, the legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules does have authority to meet and make changes to it if they deem it necessary.

“Whether it will be a repeat of the ‘Safer at Home’ order or something that will be negotiated between the legislature and the department is yet to be seen,” said Republican Rep. Joan Ballweg, who co-chairs that committee.