Gov. Tony Evers considering using some COVID-19 money for aid payments to farmers

MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers is considering funneling millions of dollars to struggling farmers using federal funds to fight the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.

“Obviously the agriculture industry, dairy in particular, has been struggling mightily,” the Democratic governor told Brownfield Ag News on Thursday. “We want to do whatever we can to be helpful. I can’t say it’s going to be $50 million or whatever but the bottom line is it is under consideration.”

“By early next week we should know. It’s under significant consideration.”

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The state has received about $2 billion to help deal with coronavirus and agriculture groups have asked for $50 million of that in aid payments. Evers can decide on his own how to spend the federal money and doesn’t need approval from the Legislature, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. 

Evers is deciding how to spend the federal money as he is making about $70 million in cuts to state operations because of plummeting tax collections. The new federal aid can’t be used on existing costs and instead must be dedicated to dealing with the toll of coronavirus. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, Wisconsin dairy farmers faced an economic crisis that caused a raft of farm closures and bankruptcies. The virus outbreak has only worsened the situation. 

Evers said he would consult with the agriculture industry on how to structure any aid payments but would be inclined to direct much of it to small farmers. 

“Everybody in this state is struggling but there are … some folks that are hurting more than others and that’s how we should divvy up this money,” he said. 

“Our goal is to make sure that producers are prioritized. The people who are getting the small milk checks are the ones that need the most help.”

Evers didn’t say whether he was considering providing aid to other businesses that have struggled, such as restaurants and bars that have been largely shuttered under orders from his administration.

Evers’ latest stay-in-home order is in place until May 26. In the Brownfield interview, he emphasized that when the state reopens, it will do so slowly. 

“I don’t think there’s anybody in the state of Wisconsin — I could be wrong — that would think that on May 27th we’re going to put 40,000 people in Miller Park for a baseball game,” he said. “That just isn’t going to happen. Can you imagine what would happen to the virus? It would be transmitted among 40,000 people in some fashion”.

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Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.

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