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Capital City Sunday: WEDC reopening plans, testing for nursing homes & budget uncertainties

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Many laid off workers are anxious to go back to work, but some businesses are telling the state's job agency they need guidance on how to reopen safely.

Secretary and CEO of Wisconsin's Economic Development Corporation Missy Hughes said employers tell her they need a plan from state leaders and want protective gear to keep customers and employees safe.

"Large employers are asking for testing before they bring large groups back together and smaller businesses are asking for a runway, give us some timing, some stability, so we can start buying supplies to get our employees back online," said Hughes.

When asked if Hughes believes it's time to start reopening, she said there are challenges still ahead.

"When reopening happens we will be ready, as ready as we can be, but I think a little more time would help us to be able to assure and create that confidence among workers and the customers," she said. "I'm not sure we have all the pieces in place right now to ensure that confidence."

EXPANDED TESTING AT LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES

Wisconsin's long term care facilities have been among those hardest hit during the pandemic. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, about 40% of the state's deaths have occurred in them.

Now, Governor Tony Evers announced a plan for widespread testing at every long term care facility in the state.

His plan ensures everyone who shows COVID-19 symptoms gets a test and also plans to re-test every resident and staff member.

John Sauer, President/CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin, called the announcement a good first step but believes there's much more that needs to be done to contain outbreaks at these facilities.

"We need nursing homes to have readily available personal protective equipment, other materials that are helpful in protecting the resident and the caregiver," said Sauer.

BUDGET WOES, UNCERTAINTY AT SCHOOL DISTRICTS

Cities and villages across the state are bracing for some very difficult choices as the economic impact of the pandemic is keeping them from collecting taxes and fees they counted on.

Wisconsin Policy Forum's Research Director Jason Stein said local governments, especially school districts who depending heavily on state aid, are waiting to see how big of a financial hit they'll see in the coming months.

"We are waiting to see how bad the impacts will be, but clearly this will be very significant and long-lasting," said Stein.

More than any other type of local government in the state, Stein said counties will see their tax revenues reduced and their spending demands increased by this unprecedented crisis.

In a recent report, they also examined the hit that city and village revenues would take from the fallout from recent events.

For school districts, this year’s spring budget discussions also show uncertainty. Stein said the impact of COVID-19 has left districts with an unusual and difficult task as they prepare their financial plans for the upcoming school year.

"Many districts are reaching into their budget reserves to fund things such as laptops, learning materials, and hotspots for internet access," he said.

You can view the policy forum's full reports here.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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