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Main Street Over Wall Street: Community groups and displaced workers call on Congress to help people

Anna Landmark and Chantia Lewis, members of the Opportunity Wisconsin steering committee, were recently joined by displaced workers and small business owners for a press call to discuss how COVID-19 is impacting communities around Wisconsin.

On the heels of a record rise in unemployment claims nationwide, and more than 100,000 new unemployment claims filed in Wisconsin in just the past week and a half. Opportunity Wisconsin is a coalition of Wisconsin residents fighting for an economy that works for working people.

“I wanted to participate in this forum because it is a unique time in history and it is important to elevate stories so that people can understand what we are really facing,” said Chantia Lewis, Opportunity Wisconsin Steering Committee and City of Milwaukee Alderwoman. “It’s one thing to talk about legislation, but it is not until you talk to everyday people to see what the impact is going to be, and I see the real value in elevating stories especially now.”

Participants called on the President and lawmakers in Washington DC to invest in workers and their families during this economic crisis, not push policies that primarily bailout big corporations and CEOs.

“We are concerned, and have concerns about what legislation has been passed and what is going to happen to us,” said Anna Landmark, Opportunity Wisconsin Steering Committee and Landmark Creamery co-owner and Cheesemaker. “It’s hard to see airlines getting big loans with no requirement to pay those back when I am struggling to get small loans. Things feel really scary right now.”

According to new data from Navigator Research, by 12 points (49% to 37%), Americans say that President Trump’s economic policy response to coronavirus favors the wealthy and big corporations, instead of middle and working class people. Those saying his policies favor the wealthy and big corporations is up 7 points since the beginning of this week.

“When you are chasing the American dream to try to save enough money and you do have 3 months of savings, that is only when you are able to have a level of access. I don’t think the policies that we are seeing coming out of Washington give us that access,” said Lewis. “When we talk about a $500 billion bailout for corporations, I am not seeing that focus on the people coming from Washington. That same level of access should be granted to regular citizens who are the heartbeat of our communities. Small businesses are the heartbeat of communities and if we don’t support them and those owners of small businesses and the consumers of those businesses we are hurting our nation.”

In addition, recent Data for Progress research reports that 62% of Americans are concerned about bailouts that don’t also protect payroll and take care of workers.

“This is not something that I ever would have thought would be a possibility. Restaurants and bars in the downtown area have been thriving and these businesses have been gaining momentum so this is really hard to see,” said Andy Gehrke, Manager of Dive in Eau Claire. “I am lucky to be on the management team but I will see a cut in 40-50% of my income. My biggest concern is that all of my hourly employees are being taken care of. The relief package is not nearly enough. When you think about a $1,200 check for each of us, it is not enough.”

Wisconsinites are up against staggering unemployment, loss of health care, quarantine, and an infectious disease on the rise. Corporate bailouts will lift the burdens on families, pay their bills, protect their health, or put food on tables.
“I am a single mom of five and it is just me, everyone depends on me. With the nail salon shut down, there are no funds, and I’m working through my savings,” said Latasha Clark, Owner of Diva Nailz in Milwaukee. “What I am most concerned about is that, as an independent contractor, I may not be eligible for unemployment. That scares me.”

The steering committee is calling for all the support the public can get from lawmakers to ensure shared financial security and health.

“Right now, we are kind of open. We offer delivery, but our storefront is not open. We are reopening a little bit today because we have a few different funeral services to deliver to – celebrations of life are still happening and people want to honor their loved ones the best they can,” said Jake Lindgren of Avalon Floral in Eau Claire. “I lost my mother in November and I cannot even imagine saying goodbye to a loved one at this time. We are trying to give people light in this darkness.”

The Milwaukee Independent began reporting on what was then referred to as the mysterious “Wuhan Virus” in January. Other local media did not picked-up on the story until many weeks later. Our early features focused on the economic impact, social issues, and health concerns long before other Milwaukee news organizations even mentioned the coronavirus. Over the following months, we have published more than 375 articles about the pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Milwaukee residents. This extensive body of work can be found on our COVID-19 Special Report page, a chronological index of links by month. Our editorial voice remains dedicated to informing the public about this health crisis for as long as it persists.
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