By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin residents who lost income because of the coronavirus pandemic can get help paying their rent, and farmers can receive 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 through the federal coronavirus relief bill.
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 qualify or how much the payments would be. But he said the money would start to be distributed as early as June.
Money offered through 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 medium income.
In Dane County, the income limit would be around $50,000. In Milwaukee County it would be around $39,000 and it would be around $49,000 in Brown County.
The amount of assistance can reach up to $3,000, money that will be paid directly to landlords on behalf of tenants. The state was working 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.
By Wednesday, 481 people had died in Wisconsin because of COVID-19 and more than 13,400 had 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 a second day in a row of increases following two days of declines.
The announcement of the renters assistance and farmer payments came on the same day that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden held a virtual round table to discuss hardships that have arisen in rural areas because of 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.”