County Executive David Crowley (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
Municipal and county leaders from across Wisconsin pleaded for additional federal funding to bail out local businesses struggling with the economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a virtual luncheon sponsored by WisPolitics on Thursday, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, Waukesha County Board Chair Paul Decker, Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich and Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg warned that local businesses face a dire winter.
“The number one thing I would beg of the federal government when they get back together to talk is that I think we need a business bailout,” Rosenberg said. “Right now we’re really struggling. These businesses, they’re open but they are not doing well and it’s not because of mask mandates, it’s not because of occupancy issues, it’s because people are scared to go out there and eat; they’re scared to go shopping. That’s the number one thing I’m hearing from our Main Street, that they need help.”
As COVID-19 infections spike across the state, residents continue to alter their habits to avoid sickness. Particularly as cold weather forces an end to many outdoor activities, Wisconsin businesses will struggle — ultimately harming the state’s whole economy.
“We need a significant bailout for main street businesses,” Genrich said. “That’s desperately needed in Green Bay and Brown County, and I think all across the country. Because without that it’s going to be a very, very dark winter for Main Street businesses and I’m very concerned what that could look like long-term for our revenue, but more immediately the livelihoods of these small business owners and everybody that they employ.”
Federal funding through the CARES Act and a reliance on property taxes meant that Wisconsin’s local governments have been able to remain stable throughout the year, though Decker said Waukesha County has had to get creative with the money, spending $200,000 per week on contact tracing alone.
“The real challenge I think for all governments, when I talk to constituents about this, COVID is causing a little bit of indigestion right now but nothing else has gone away,” Decker said. “We still have roads to fix, bridges to repair, mental health issues and drug issues if anything have been going up, so we are not getting away from any of those challenges.”
In Milwaukee County, which as the state’s largest county received the most CARES funding, Crowley said officials have had to be resourceful as aid has been disbursed in a variety of ways.
“We had to get creative and innovative in how we spent these dollars,” Crowley said. “We knew and identified that the community needed help as well. We had eviction prevention programs, we wanted to make sure that those who owned their own homes could continue to pay their mortgages as well. But we also needed to make sure that businesses had some assistance.”
Despite the state and federal money that’s already been disbursed, more will be needed as the future remains uncertain for government budgets and local businesses.
“As the mayors and county chairman just said, we need the resources,” Crowley continued. “When you think about staying ahead of the curve, continuing to provide the capacity as it relates to testing, making sure we can distribute the vaccine equitably across the state of Wisconsin … we have to lean on one another.”
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