Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes said Wisconsin is “in a solid spot” when it comes to containing the spread to coronavirus, but big plans are still needed to help the economy recover.
Barnes spoke to Madison365 publisher Henry Sanders on the daily interview show Real Talk with Henry Sanders.
“We’re steadily climbing (toward reopening) and it’s because we’re doing the right things. It’s because Safer at Home was in place,” Barnes said, referring to the Department of Health Services order closing most nonessential businesses and restricting travel. “And you know, that doesn’t mean we just stop it today. It means you just keep doing what we’re doing. This is going to be incremental. We are turning this thing like a dial, not flipping it like a switch.”
Barnes noted that several measures that need to be on a downward trajectory have met the benchmarks necessary for reopening. Still, racial disparities in coronavirus infection are a real concern.
“It makes me very nervous, given the fact that if you just take the black and Latino total population of the state where probably around 13 percent of the state’s population and we are over 50 percent of the positive test cases,” he said. “That is a health disparity that mirrors so many other disparities.”
The rate of disparity in Latino populations has risen sharply in recent weeks — 30 percent of total cases are now Latino people. Latinos make up just seven percent of the state’s overall population. Similarly, 21 percent of all cases are Black people, who also make up just under 30 percent of deaths. Black people make up just 6 percent of the state’s population.
Barnes said some of the improvement in statistics around overall infection is due to an increase in testing, including the opening of community testing sites in Milwaukee and Madison where anyone can be tested for free.
“It will help to give people some assurance, for those who may have been wondering, those who may have been a little hesitant to go to a doctor because they don’t have health insurance or they don’t have a primary care physician,” he said.
But even with the infection numbers going in the right direction, he said the economy is going to need some bold plans.
“With unemployment numbers being at the levels they were during the Great Depression, it is going to take New-Deal-type of thinking to get us out of that,” he said.
He touted a program announced last week by Governor Tony Evers to grant $2,000 to each of 1,000 minority-owned “microbusinesses” — businesses with five or fewer employees.
“These are the grants that are available to people who didn’t get a (Payroll Protection Program) loan, people who weren’t eligible for the federal CARES Act, or people who haven’t received the small business funding,” he said. “A lot of folks did slip through the cracks and they were left wondering, especially as they saw larger businesses, larger companies, corporations, have access to funding even though many didn’t need it, but they still had access to the funds and it created more inequality because these struggling small businesses don’t have the resources available to compete, especially in the middle of a pandemic. So we want to be able to help out some of those businesses. And you know, it might not seem like a lot of money, but it can be make-or-break for people who are on the margins right now.”
Applications will be open May 18 through one of 19 local ethnic business associations. Details are available here.