This week, Assembly Republicans released a package of legislation to address the challenges presented by COVID-19. While the package is fairly broad, there are a few policies that I believe are critical.
Most importantly, this package of legislation will help get our children back in school, face-to-face. This legislation would require a two-thirds vote of any school board to approve virtual instruction, provide payments to parents of $371 for students who have had at least 50% virtual instruction since September, and require teacher instruction from school buildings by the end of January. I have heard far too many stories from teachers and parents of children falling behind in recent months during virtual schooling. Both CDC Director Robert Redfield and NAID Director Anthony Fauci have stated that COVID spread among children is minimal, and they have advocated for keeping schools in-person. Returning children to school can be done safely, and this must be a top priority of every school board in the state.
This package also requires the Department of Workforce Development to eliminate the current backlog of unemployment insurance claims. For months, my office has worked with constituents to get their unemployment claims processed, yet DWD still has a substantial backlog. Often, constituents have had to wait 2-3 months to have their claims approved. DWD must address this backlog to provide Wisconsin workers the benefits they are owed.
Under this legislation, family members and caregivers would also be permitted to visit loved ones in nursing homes in certain circumstances. I have heard from a number of constituents who have described the profound loneliness that their parents and grandparents feel when their care facilities are totally shuttered. While it is critical to protect our vulnerable population until a vaccine is available to them, we must also take steps to protect their mental health and personal connections.
In addition to the policies mentioned above, this legislation will also create a $100 million fund to respond to the public health emergency, double the number of local public health staff working on the COVID response, offer weekly rapid antigen tests for home use, continue the prohibition of co-payments for any COVID tests, and create business grants for the hospitality industry.
These are policies that will help Wisconsin families and businesses in need. I strongly support this package of legislation, and I look forward to working with the Governor to pass these common-sense initiatives.
Rep. Gae Magnafici represents portions of Polk, Burnett, and St. Croix counties.