We’ve compiled a list of Madison and Dane County resources related to the novel coronavirus, including economic and healthcare challenges resulting from COVID-19, please visit www.MadisonCovidResources.com.
We update the site regularly as additional information and programs are available. Be well and stay safe.
A Real Plan to Beat COVID
Bars are open but schools are closed. Airlines got bailouts but small businesses are failing. As an American, I’m devastated that 150,000 people are dead. As a parent and a small business owner, I’m worried about our kids and our economy. As someone who cares about racial, economic, and gender equality, I’m angry that this pandemic is worsening our existing inequalities, hitting families and communities that were already struggling the hardest.
Our reckless, feckless federal government squandered the months we stayed at home, while Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature and supreme court conspired to thwart every effort by Gov. Evers to save lives and reopen safely.
Other countries with functioning governments are managing this, but America is seeing mass evictions, more unknown months of “virtual” school, and huge unemployment and economic devastation. We need serious leadership and evidence-based plans to beat this pandemic and begin to recover. Here are the key aspects of my plan for COVID-19.
- Get the virus under control. The economy won’t recover until people stop getting sick and dying. Along with the new mask mandate, we need wider testing and tracing. Frequent, regular free testing will continue to be important so that any flare-ups can be immediately quashed. We should make use of batch testing and to increase our testing capacity.
- Take the Medicaid expansion. While I’d love to see BadgerCare for All, access to healthcare is a life or death issue for many and we need to get as many people covered as quickly as possible, which means accepting the federal money for Medicaid expansion. This is especially urgent with hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites recently becoming unemployed. In addition to providing healthcare for thousands of Wisconsinites, Medicaid expansion will create some 10,000 new healthcare jobs.
- Pass universal paid family and medical leave. When people are ill or have a potential exposure to coronavirus, they need to be able to safely stay home without losing their income. All workers need the flexibility to care for a child or loved one who is ill as well. This is a critical public health measure that will also be beneficial for the economy in the long run.
Teachers, parents, and students are facing enormous challenges. Teachers are either writing brand new online curriculums, or writing their wills. Parents, whether they’re essential workers or working remotely, are drowning as they balance work and their children’s education and care. These challenges are especially pronounced for single parents, low-income workers, and people experiencing housing insecurity.
- Hotspots and devices for every kid. For virtual school to be equitable and successful, we must close the “digital divide.” Schools also need additional staffing to support individualized learning, and parents need support, because managing virtual learning is difficult and stressful for families, especially for single parents or parents who are essential workers. We know that virtual learning will widen existing disparities, and that young children, children with special needs, and children who rely on schools for services like food will be disadvantaged by extended virtual learning, so it is only a temporary solution.
- Prioritize the safe reopening of schools. Right now, teachers have to buy books and crayons for their classrooms — we can’t ask them to buy masks and hand sanitizer as well. To reopen schools and childcare facilities, we need to be creative. The state must provide funding for additional space and reorganizing space to allow greater distancing, more staff for smaller class sizes, enabling outdoor classrooms whenever possible, and enhanced cleaning, air filtration, and masks. Above all, we need more staff to reduce class sizes — keeping children and teachers in isolated small group “pods” together is a key to reducing exposure.
- Protect public school funding. Some parents may “opt out” of virtual or in person schooling, instead choosing to homeschool, hire a tutor, or enroll in private school. Unfortunately, because public school funding is based on enrollment, this could be devastating to school district budgets. We should hold school districts harmless for reduced enrollment, so that public schools don’t lose funding at the worst possible time.
- Fix the unemployment system. People in Wisconsin are struggling to make ends meet, while our outdated system and understaffed department are ill equipped to handle the massive influx of benefit requests. As a result, thousands are kept waiting weeks and months to receive the benefits they need to buy groceries, pay for medication, or pay their rent or mortgage. Wisconsin must permanently waive the one-week waiting period for benefits, address the enormous backlog in benefit distribution, and should presume eligibility and pay benefits right away rather than waiting for adjudication. Wisconsin should also seek federal funds to shore up unemployment and continue the additional $600 in benefits that recently expired.
- Experiment with universal basic income for low income families. With many families facing reduced hours, unpredictable incomes, lack of childcare, and low or delayed unemployment insurance benefits, now is the perfect time to implement a universal basic income. This would give a bit of breathing room and help families on the margins to survive this pandemic and the economic uncertainty it has wrought.
- Protect incarcerated people from COVID-19 exposure. Right now, our jails and prisons are hotspots for COVID transmission. Close quarters, inadequate ventilation, lack of healthcare, and poor sanitation all contribute to the devastating numbers of cases at prisons. Especially given Wisconsin’s shameful racial disparities in incarceration rates and COVID outcomes, the moral imperative to prevent mass illness and death in our prisons is clear. The governor should use his clemency power broadly to release people who are elderly and high risk, many of whom have served decades behind bars. Wisconsin should also immediately release people who are imprisoned based on crimeless revocations — meaning, they served their time but were reincarcerated because of technical parole violations but haven’t committed a new crime. Significantly reducing the number of incarcerated people would make prisons safer for incarcerated people and staff, while reducing the enormous cost of mass incarceration and freeing up money at a time when the state budget is facing a massive shortfall.
- Eviction and utility moratorium. One of the most powerful tools to combat the coronavirus is to remain at home, but too many families face housing insecurity. No one should be faced with eviction or losing heat or electricity during a deadly pandemic because of inability to pay. In Madison, a worker earning minimum wage would need almost three full time jobs to afford the average two bedroom apartment. It’s much less costly and much safer to help people maintain housing than to try to re-home people who are experiencing homelessness. Allowing people to safely remain in their homes must be a public health priority.
This pandemic has made clear just how important it is to have a functioning government, and how dangerous it is to have amoral political leaders who are unwilling to lead. Yet, it has also illustrated that we are all connected. We cannot beat the coronavirus without significant collective action. While Black people and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by COVID, no one is safe while the virus rages on. It’s time for our state government to save lives and save our economy by taking these important steps, before more lives are destroyed.