COVID-19 UPDATES FOR COUNTY OFFICIALS

As issues continue to develop and change at a quick rate with COVID-19, the Coronavirus, we at the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA) are working alongside Governor Tony Evers, the Administration, the National Association of Counties (NACo) and our general counsel, von Briesen & Roper, s.c., (von Briesen) to provide the latest resources and updates to assist county officials during this unprecedented time.

COVID-19 Daily Update: 4.7.2020

April 7, 2020

COVID-19 DAILY HEALTH UPDATE
(Information from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) current as of 1:00 p.m. Central, Tuesday, April 7, 2020)
Total people with negative results: 28,512 (+1,938)
Total people with positive results: 2,578 (+138)
Hospitalizations: 745 (+77) or 29%
Total deaths: 92 (+15)

NACo BREAKING NEWS: COUNTY PRIORITIES FOR 4TH COVID RELIEF PACKAGE; BILL INTRODUCED TODAY CREATING $250 BILLION CORONAVIRUS RELIEF FUND

Letter to House and Senate Leadership Outlining County Priorities for 4th COVID Package-Wisconsin County Officials Encouraged to Contact Federal Delegation
Last night, NACo sent this letter to House and Senate leadership outlining county priorities for a fourth COVID package. County officials are encouraged to use this letter as a guide and send to Wisconsin’s federal delegationNote that infrastructure is added in at the end of this letter, as it is being indicated that a fifth package around infrastructure will soon be forthcoming.

Bill Introduced Today that Would Create New $250 Billion Coronavirus Relief Fund for Local Governments with Populations Under 500K
Today, four House members introduced a bill that would create a new $250 billion Coronavirus relief fund for local governments with populations under 500k. The bill text for the “Coronavirus Community Relief Act” can be found here, as well as a media release.

The sponsors—Reps. Ben Lujan (D) (NM-3), Andy Levin (D) (MI-9), Tom Malinowski (D) (NJ-7), Joe Neguse (D) (CO-2)— hope to get this included in a fourth COVID package. Per the legislation, all local governments (defined as “a county, municipality, town, township, village, parish, borough, or other unit of general government below the State level”) would be eligible. The legislation also defines costs to include “lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred, and increases in costs reasonably believed to be the direct or indirect result of, or direct or indirect responses to circumstances caused by, the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” Per NACo, it is unclear at this time how Treasury would distribute the funding with that many local governments eligible and how quickly counties could access it. The top priority is to ensure that counties get compensated to reflect our roles and responsibilities. 

NACo also anticipates a bill to be introduced this week to help us with the paid leave/FMLA tax credit eligibility issue. Reps. Brad Schneider (IL-10), TJ Cox (CA-2) and Diana DeGette (CO-1) have been working on this jointly and our federal lobbying partners at NACo will keep us updated. 

WISCONSIN ELECTIONS COMMISSION ISSUES UPDATED GUIDANCE ON ELECTION NIGHT PROCEDURES
As things continue to develop and change at a quick rate, we at the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA) are working alongside Governor Tony Evers, the Administration, the National Association of Counties (NACo) and our general counsel, von Briesen & Roper, s.c., (von Briesen) to provide the latest resources and updates to assist county officials during this unprecedented time.

As you are all aware, the Supreme Court last evening overturned a part of the District Court’s Order concerning absentee voting. Many have asked whether the District Court’s prohibition on reporting unofficial election results until April 13 at 4:00 p.m. was overturned as well.

Our general counsel von Briesen & Roper, s.c. discussed the Supreme Court’s Decision, the District Court’s Order and the interpretation and application of those directives with the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s (WEC) counsel. As well, we understand that the WEC Board met last evening with their general counsel and the attorneys that represent WEC in the District Court and Supreme Court cases.

The WEC has issued guidance indicating that county and municipal clerks need to follow the District Court’s Order prohibiting the announcement of results until April 13 as the Supreme Court did not vacate or overrule that part of the District Court’s Order.

While we are aware that there are varying interpretations of the decisions and orders and what the impact of those decisions and orders may be, we believe it important to have consistency in the guidance offered. If you have any questions concerning the guidance WEC has offered, please contact WEC. The Association will keep you apprised of any further developments in this regard.

WCA SUBMITS COUNTY REQUESTS FOR STATE SUPPORT DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC TO GOVERNOR, SPEAKER VOS AND MAJORITY LEADER FITZGERALD
The United States, including the State of Wisconsin, is in the midst of a public health crisis. Wisconsin’s 72 counties are at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing vital public health and public safety services.
As state leaders considering action to address the impacts of this pandemic on the state and its local units of government, the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA), on behalf of all of its members, respectfully requests that you consider the following measures to assist counties in addressing the crisis:

  • State funding to assist counties in covering costs associated with health, human services and emergency personnel, specifically their significant overtime costs.
  • State funding to assist counties in covering costs associated with PPE purchases.
  • State funding to offset dramatic increases in county public health department costs.
  • State funding to assist counties in covering costs associated with purchasing remote work equipment for emergency personnel and other essential employees.
  • State funding to assist counties with significant cost overruns in nursing homes and jails.
  • Changes to state statute to allow WRS retirees to return to work (on a temporary basis) without having to suspend their annuity.
  • Changes to state statute to eliminate the 75-day waiting period for WRS retirees before they can return to work.
  • Creation of a state fund—in place of county worker’s compensation coverage—to provide income continuation during a period of isolation or recuperation relating to COVID-19.
  • Providing temporary immunity from civil liability to certain health care facilities (including local government facilities used as temporary health care facilities) and certain health care providers for the provision of healthcare services related to COVID-19.
  • Authorize counties to borrow funds for purposes of funding cash flow and operational needs.

LEGAL UPDATE: Q AND A FOR COUNTY TRAVEL BANS ON SECOND/SEASONAL HOMEOWNERS AND OUT-OF-STATE VISITORS
Wisconsin counties, particularly those in the central and northern part of the state, have voiced concerns over potential influx of second or seasonal homeowners and out-of-state visitors coming to their counties during the COVID-19 pandemic. The concerns are generally based on fear of community spread of the COVID-19 virus, especially when visitors may come from areas that have a high number of reported COVID-19 cases.

On March 24, 2020, Executive Order #12, the Safer at Home Order (“EO #12”) was issued and states “all individuals present within the State of Wisconsin are ordered to stay at home or at their place of residence, with exceptions outlined” in EO #12. This includes restrictions on “non-essential” travel. Some counties have interpreted EO #12’s ban on “non-essential travel” to include a ban on out-of-state visitors or second homeowners from visiting the county. Counties also have been faced with the issues of whether a Local Public Health Officer has the authority to impose a travel ban, and whether law enforcement has the authority to enforce a travel ban.

The Wisconsin Counties Association and its general counsel, von Briesen & Roper, s.c., have received many questions regarding a county’s ability to adopt a travel ban on second/seasonal home owners and out-of-state visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our general counsel has prepared the Q & A below to provide information related to county travel bans.
This information should be reviewed carefully with corporation counsel to ensure county compliance with other applicable laws and regulations.

VA EXTENDS FINANCIAL, BENEFITS AND CLAIMS RELIEF TO VETERANS
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced April 3, a number of actions to provide Veterans with financial, benefits and claims help amid VA’s COVID-19 response.

“As all Americans come together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we want Veterans to be focused on their health and safety,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “That’s why we’re taking action to give those with pending debts, claims and appeals greater flexibility during these challenging times.”
The financial relief actions include the following until further notice:

  • Suspending all actions on Veteran debts under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department.
  • Suspending collection action or extending repayment terms on preexisting VA debts, as the Veteran prefers.

For benefit debts, Veterans can contact the VA Debt Management Center at 1-800-827-0648 to make arrangements. For health care debts, Veterans can contact the Health Resource Center at 1-888-827-4817 to make arrangements.

For Veterans who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and need immediate action on their appeals, as opposed to a filing extension, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals will Advance their appeal on Docket (AOD). Click here to find out how to file for AOD and what documentation is required.

JOIN WHITE HOUSE BRIEFING WEDNESDAY APRIL 8
On Wednesday, April 8, at 1:00 PM Eastern Time, please join Senior Administration Officials for a briefing call on COVID-19 (coronavirus). The primary focus of this week’s briefing call will be federal agency guidance and implementation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. You can find additional information from the U.S. Department of the Treasury here. Registration instructions are below – please read the RSVP instructions in their entirety before registering.

Briefing Call RegistrationDate: Wednesday, April 8Time: 1:00 PM Eastern Time (please note time zone) Call-In Registration: Click Here
Note: Please note the following information regarding registration.

  • Call-in lines are limited. RSVP’s will be allocated in the order they are received. Please register only if you are able to join the call.
  • Upon successful registration, you will be directed to a separate webpage with confirmation details and/or receive dial-in instructions to the email address you use to register. Please ensure the email address you register with is correct and check your spam/junk folder after registration. If neither action occurs, you did not successfully register.
  • If you are attempting to register but cannot “submit” your information, the call is at capacity.
  •  Note that multiple people cannot dial-in using the same registration information. This will cause you to be kicked-off the call.

OMNIA PARTNERS COVID-19 RESOURCES
OMNIA Partners, a WCA partner in cooperative purchasing, is currently working with suppliers who have been stepping up for PPE items. Please note that there is a 3-4 week wait time for some product availability.

As demand changes rapidly, OMNIA is working closely with their supplier partners to stay up-to-date on some items that can be shipped from 5-7 days and 7-14 days on items that are in real time in stock.

One of the OMNIA Partners supplier contracts is with EPIC Business Essentials. The company has been able to get access to masks, gowns, shields, coveralls and other necessary PPE and equipment. For more information, please Scott Zintz, Managing Director with EPIC Business Essentials at 630.220.9505 or via email.

Learn more below on the OMNIA Partners COVID-19 Resources page:

For additional questions, contact OMNIA Partners Midwest Regional Manager Tom Ford via email or at 847.372.3381