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Wisconsin Farmers, Renters Can Get COVID-19 Assistance Under New Programs

Wisconsin residents who lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic can get help paying their rent under a new $25 million program.

Updated at 2:55 p.m. CT

Wisconsin residents who lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic can get help paying their rent, and farmers will be eligible for direct cash payments, under new programs Gov. Tony Evers announced Wednesday.

The $50 million aid to farmers program, $25 million rental assistance program and another $15 million for food banks and those fighting hunger is all paid for under the federal coronavirus relief bill.

>>Latest WUWM & NPR Coronavirus Coverage

Evers said the state agriculture department was working with stakeholders “to ensure a fair, accessible distribution system for these aid payments” to farmers. Evers did not immediately release details on who would be eligible or how much the payments would be. But he said the money would start to be distributed as early as June.

Money available under the rent assistance program can be used to help pay for rent and security deposits. To qualify, an applicant must be a Wisconsin resident with a household income at or below 80% of the county median income.

In Dane County, the income cut-off would be around $50,000. In Milwaukee County it would be around $39,000 and in Brown County it would be around $49,000.

Assistance can be up to $3,000, which is paid directly to the landlord on behalf of the tenant. The state was partnering with Wisconsin Community Action Program Association member agencies to accept applications and distribute assistance.

Evers said the program "will hopefully provide peace of mind to a lot of people, as well as a reminder to them that we are all in this together. They have not been forgotten.”

Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, of Racine, accused Evers of giving “false hope of help” by announcing the program without details, such as how to apply. The website announcing the program said those details would be available soon. Evers' spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions about when details for the farmer aid program would be released.

Evers on Tuesday announced plans for spending $1 billion in federal aid, primarily on testing, contact tracing, acquisition of supplies, emergency operations and resources for local communities.

As of Wednesday, 481 people had died in Wisconsin due to COVID-19 and more than 13,400 tested positive, according to the state Department of Health Services. The percentage of people who tested positive out of all tests given was 8%, marking the second day in a row of increases following two days of declines.

Announcement of the renteral assistance and farmer cash payment programs came on the same day that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden held a virtual round table to discuss challenges being faced by rural areas due to the pandemic. Biden, the former vice president, called for paying more attention to struggling rural parts of the country and faulted President Donald Trump’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

He was joined on the call by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, of La Crosse, the CEO of a community health center, a farmers’ union representative and the economic development director of Trempealeau County. Biden was also holding a virtual rally Wednesday targeting Milwaukee.

Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt defended Trump's handling of the pandemic on Tuesday and said the GOP was making it a priority to defeat Kind in his mostly rural district. Trump won the district by 4.5 points in 2016, while he carried the state by less than a point.

“He is a huge asset to us here in Wisconsin,” Hitt said of Trump. “Right now I think we need President Trump more than ever.”

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