Month: June 2020

Legislative Leaders Signal Wisconsin will Maintain County Response to COVID-19

State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, one of the Republicans behind the Safer at Home lawsuit, said in a statement he does not support shutting down businesses again or mandating mask wearing as has been done in other states.

“It’s clear from the actions of Milwaukee and Madison that the responses will be regional,” Fitzgerald said. “Bars and restaurants should follow the safe practices put forward by the WEDC to ensure that they can maintain proper social distancing.”

The Speaker of the Assembly also indicated he was not interested in another statewide order.

“People should continue to follow the CDC guidelines and to take prudent precautions,” Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement to News 3 Now. “We continue monitor regional hospitalization rates which indicate hospital resources are in good shape to handle cases of the virus.”

Jobless Claims Tax State, But Not Yet Employers

With hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens out of work due to the COVID-19 crisis, the state’s fund for jobless benefits has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in a matter of months to cover historic unemployment claims. Nevertheless, the combination of higher fund reserves at the start of the pandemic and state action in response to it should push any broad payroll tax increases for employers into early 2022 – a benefit for both struggling businesses and workers.

After adding to its unemployment fund substantially in recent years, the state is once again seeing those critical reserves decline at an unprecedented pace. State and federal figures show the balance in the state unemployment fund has fallen from nearly $2 billion at the close of 2019 to $1.66 billion as of June 8, a drop of more than $300 million that occurred almost entirely since the beginning of May.

So far, public attention has justly focused more on the plight of unemployed workers. Yet it’s also worth considering the impact of falling unemployment fund balances, since those can lead to tax increases on employers during an already brutal downturn. Fortunately, in part due to recent state actions, it appears taxes on businesses will not rise widely until the first quarter of 2022.

U.S. Consumer Spending up 8.2% in May

American consumers increased their spending by a sharp 8.2% in May, partly erasing record plunges the previous two months, against the backdrop of an economy that’s likely shrinking by its steepest pace on record this quarter.

Last month’s rebound in consumer spending followed spending drops of 6.6% in March and 12.6% in April, when the viral pandemic shuttered businesses, forced millions of layoffs and sent the economy into a recession. Since then, many businesses have reopened, drawing consumers back into shops and restaurants and restoring some lost jobs.

Friday’s Commerce Department report showed that Americans stepped up their spending in May despite a 4.2% decline in personal income, which had soared by 10.8% the previous month.

Income had jumped in April on the strength of billions of dollars in support through government payments in the form of unemployment aid as well as one-time $1,200 stimulus checks. In May, those stimulus checks were no longer counted as income for most people.

Wisconsinites can now Apply for 13 Weeks of Extended Unemployment Benefits

The state’s Department of Workforce Development announced Wednesday that some Wisconsinites who’ve exhausted their unemployment benefits can now apply for an additional 13 weeks of assistance.

The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program was created as part of the CARES Act, the federal coronavirus stimulus bill passed by Congress in March. People who’ve already received 26 weeks of unemployment insurance, typically the limit, can apply for the benefit through DWD, according to a news release from the agency.

The agency notified individuals who’ve already exhausted their benefits that they may be eligible for the new program. It said people who are currently filing weekly unemployment claims will receive information about the program through their online claimant portal.

People who receive extended benefits will also receive an additional $600 per week from the federal government, another component of the CARES Act, through July 25, 2020, according to DWD.

Applications Extended until June 26 for We’re All In Small Business Grants

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is extending the deadline until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, June 26, for small businesses to apply online for the $2,500 We’re All In Small Business Grants, WEDC officials announced today.

WEDC had received more than 26,000 applications as of late Tuesday night, when applications were originally scheduled to close. The deadline was extended to give additional businesses more time to get needed documents and submit their information to WEDC.

The program, which will provide $2,500 grants to 30,000 small businesses, is designed to help small businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, while also encouraging them to adopt best practices to keep employees, customers and communities safe.

WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes said the We’re All In grants “will not be determined on a first-come, first-served basis, so businesses all have the same chance of receiving a grant, regardless of when they apply. But with the limited time that’s left, we’re encouraging businesses to apply now so that if they have questions, they don’t risk missing out on this important resource.”

Pandemic Slows May Home Sales

The severe economic consequences of COVID-19 had a significant impact on existing home sales in May, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association (WRA).

In its monthly analysis of home sales, the WRA found May home sales fell by 25.8% on a year-over-year basis. Median prices continued to rise at a robust pace, increasing 6.2% to $214,000 in May relative to May 2019. Comparing the first five months of 2020 to that same period last year, existing home sales slipped 5.5% and the median price rose 7.9% to $205,000.

“When the president announced the National Emergency in mid-March, followed shortly thereafter by the Safer at Home order by the governor, we expected to see home sales fall dramatically beginning in May,” said WRA Chairman Steve Beers. Regional sales in Wisconsin were remarkably consistent with five of the six regions down between 20.2% and 25.5% over the past 12 months. Only the Southeast region dropped by a slightly higher margin, falling 30.5% over the May 2019 to May 2020 period.

“Home sales that closed in May were likely under contract in late March or early to mid-April, and this is the time when a lot of potential buyers and sellers decided to sit tight,” said Beers. He noted that we’re still in for a rough summer in terms of home sales, but the re-opening of the state economy should help.

“Wisconsin Realtors are carefully following CDC guidelines to ensure buyer and seller safety; and while inventories remain tight, there are homes available, and mortgage rates have never been better,” he said. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.23% in May, which is a new record low.


Former Governor Tommy Thompson to Serve as UW System Interim President

On Friday, University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents President Andrew Petersen today announced that former Governor Tommy G. Thompson has agreed to serve as UW System Interim President effective July 1. The decision comes after consultation Thursday with the Board of Regents, which offered uniform support.

The Board of Regents will not commence a search for a permanent president for at least a year. Under the terms of his contract, Thompson will serve until a new president is hired and takes office.

Current System President Ray Cross will remain with the System as a consultant for 90 days after he leaves office June 30 to assist Thompson’s transition into the role.


Wisconsin Adds 72,100 Private-Sector Jobs in May

The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) today released the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminary employment and unemployment estimates for the month of May 2020.

The data shows that Wisconsin added 74,900 total non-farm and 72,100 private-sector jobs in the month of May. Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate in May was 66.6 percent, and the state’s unemployment rate fell to 12.0 percent, down from April’s revised rate of 13.6 percent.

“May’s job numbers show a strong increase in jobs, employment, and an unemployment rate that is more than a full percentage point lower than the national rate,” DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said. “As Wisconsin’s economy continues to reopen, DWD stands ready to assist workers as they transition back to their former employer, or to new employment.”

Wisconsin to Conduct 2 Health Surveys to Track COVID-19

Two population health studies in Wisconsin are being launched to better understand where COVID-19 is in the state, identify communities at risk for a future outbreak and help prevent the spread of the virus, the state Department of Health Services announced Wednesday.

The first study will be led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Survey of the Health of Wisconsin, also known as SHOW. It will determine the prevalence of people who have COVID-19 antibodies. The presence of antibodies indicates that a person had COVID-19 in the past, perhaps without realizing it.

People who have participated in past SHOW research will be chosen from 10 randomly selected counties and the city of Milwaukee to form a representative state sample, said the group’s director, Kristen Malecki.

The second study will test samples from wastewater treatment facilities, in both urban and rural areas, to determine the current concentration levels of virus genetic material found in sewage.

The water testing can help health officials identify where and to what extent COVID-19 is circulating within a community and can help them minimize its transmission, the state health department said.

The survey is designed to help communities deal with potential surges in cases, not to replace existing public health surveillance, said Dr. Jonathan Meiman, chief medical officer for the state health department’s Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health.

U.S. May Retail Sales Surge 17.7% – Biggest Monthly Jump Ever

Retail sales shattered already-lofty expectations for May as consumers freed from the coronavirus-induced lockdowns began shopping again.

The 17.7% headline gain including food sales easily topped the record 6.7% from October 2001 — a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and beat the 8% estimate from economists surveyed by Dow Jones.

Retail sales alone powered 16.8% higher from a month earlier, more than double the estimate of 8% from Dow Jones and reversing from a revised 14.7% plunge from the previous month. Clothing and accessories stores reported the biggest percentage gain at 188% while sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments and book stores rose 88.2%.

Excluding motor vehicles and parts, which popped by 44.1%, May’s gain came in at 12.4%, which also is the best on record going back to 1967.