Agard listening session at Sun Prairie Library Community Room

A masked State District 16 Senator Melissa Agard (second from left) talked with a staffer, Sun Prairie Community Schools Director Jamie Racine (not pictured), Sun Prairie Library Director Svetha Hetzler (back to camera, right) and Kathy Cherry during a Nov. 19 listening session in the Community Room at the Sun Prairie Public Library, 1350 Linnerud Drive.

A sparsely attended listening session Nov. 19 at the Sun Prairie Public Library resulted in discussions about community schools and supports for those emerging from the post-COVID economy by 16th District State Senator Melissa Agard.

Sun Prairie Community Schools Director Jamie Racine, who noted she began her job five days after the pandemic shut down schools on March 15, 2020, raised the supports for families during her remarks with Agard.

“We have five different community schools here in the community and we work to support the whole student, the whole family and the whole neighborhood,” Racine said, describing what Sun Prairie Community Schools does. “So really focusing on neighborhood level change and neighborhood level leadership and advocacy, sharing that leadership with the grass roots and the grass tops — that’s kind of an overall of our work.”

Hetzler noted that she is looking forward to having social work assistance as part of the library staff. She said the library hosted workers from the Tenant Resource Center during the pandemic to discuss rental assistance with community members, and that they were booked for the limited number of days they came to the Sun Prairie Public Library to talk with area residents about rental assistance.

Racine said Sun Prairie Community Schools is also concerned about affordable housing.

“Well, we know that in order for students to be successful in school that we need to ensure that they are safe and cared for — not only when they’re in our buildings but also at home and have stability and cared for. And going through COVID there are so many supports that the government came and provided, whether it was with utilities and housing, food or rent assistance, all of those things have been very wonderful,” Racine said.

“And I think what I’d like to just hear your perspective on is how do we support our communities in transitioning, out of this COVID-supported state and how do we start to elevate and move forward?” Racine asked. “Because I think that right now that feels to be from my perspective, I can feel that tension in talking with families and looking at how do we bridge that gap in returning to a more normal place?”

“That’s something that I have in my head a lot right now . . . a lot of folks in fact, our government and nonprofit agencies and partner agencies, raised their hands during this pandemic,” Agard said. “And we’re there for people wanting to make sure that our economy didn’t fall apart, that people were able to stay home with their kids and families had what they need, and we have safety,” Agard added. “Whether we did that perfectly well or not — I think that we can all agree that there was room that we could have done things differently but things were moving so quickly and it was such an unknown timing, and it continues to be very unknown.”

The state senator praised Sun Prairie’s attention to providing workforce and affordable housing as well as healthy meal distribution as ways to help through COVID-19.

“Some of this I do think are challenges because of COVID, but I really want to reiterate that I do believe many of those challenges are things that we were experiencing in our communities before and are just more highlighted because of COVID,” Agard said. “They are becoming more tragic. And housing . . . is certainly one of them. And with the federal government providing access to supplemental supports for people on the brink of losing their housing, certainly was refreshing, I think, to many people, but we failed as communities in getting those resources into the hands on the people that need it the most.

“And there continue to be people that apply for those dollars, early on that are having challenges and whether we’re talking about homeowners or renters or the landlords on the other side of the issue,” Agard said, “everyone is frustrated about that process.”

Not a party to

poverty legislation

State Assembly Rep. Lisa Subeck of Madison joined State Senator Jeff Smith of Brunswick for a Nov. 18 press conference to highlight the state of poverty in Wisconsin.

The most recent data on poverty comes from the report Tracking the COVID-19 Economy’s Effects on Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships. Subeck and Smith were joined by Brad Paul, the Executive Director of WISCAP; George Hinton, Board President of WISCAP; Michael Jahn, a veteran and CAC client from Madison; and Annie Culver, owner of Annie’s Fountain Café in Fond du Lac.

During an interview after the listening session, Agard said she was not involved in their legislation preparation. But she said she hoped COVID-19 has shown glaring inadequacies in the state’s social service system that need to be shored up.

“I don’t think anyone grows up in hopes that they’re going to have to raise their kids on food stamps or being housing insecure,” Agard said. “As a kid myself, that was part of my reality. And there are a lot of ways that we can do that. And certainly, there’s a number of positive proposals in what it is that Senator Smith and Rep. Subeck put forward. Additionally, I think it’s important to think about raising wages for people in Wisconsin, I think it’s important that we . . . talk about access to health care, and certainly the the safe and predictable housing aspects are important.”

Agard said while she is hopeful about the spirit of bipartisanship at the State Capitol, the reality suggests otherwise. A recent rape kit bill, which had bipartisan support and passed out of both houses of the Legislature, was the only example of cooperation between the two parties that Agard could point to during her listening session.

“I very much believe that we need to get to a point where we’re working on the best interest of all people in the state of Wisconsin . . . .Unfortunately in Wisconsin, it is the leaders of the two bodies in the legislature that decide what bills are going to even move to committee. In Wisconsin, not every bill even gets a committee hearing and the committee chairs oftentimes aren’t the people that make those decisions,” Agard said.

“So even with that bipartisan support, not just the sex kit bills, but other bills that we’ve worked on, do have broad bipartisan support,” Agard said. “Getting them to that committee level and getting them to the to the floor of the different either the Assembly or the Senate, the different bodies is exceptionally challenging, I think, partly because of who those leaders are as opposed to the fact that it is Republican in the system.”

One way to solve that is the People’s Voice Act, which if passed and signed into law would allow state residents to petition to get a bill into a public committee hearing.

“Just the public hearing doesn’t mean you have to have the vote out of committee,” Agard said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s going to go to the full legislature but it allows people the opportunity. If it is something that folks in Wisconsin support, they can petition to have a public hearing held on that bill.

“I think that would be good for government,” Agard said. “It would be good for people and would allow these conversations to occur in a transparent and open way because too much of the work that we do feels mysterious to people.”

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