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Evers releases new virus proposals for Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers released a second package of spending proposals to address the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday as a new poll showed broad support for the actions he’s taken already to slow the spread of the disease.

With the latest proposals, Evers is now asking the Legislature to spend more than $1 billion in response to the pandemic, spending Republicans have said the state can’t afford given the sharp economic downturn.

The Marquette University Law School poll showing Evers with 76% support for his handling of the crisis so far came just after Republican leaders criticized his administration for not presenting more data, including how many people have been hospitalized with COVID-19.

Soon after, the state Department of Health Services reported that 26% of confirmed COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized.

Republicans and Evers were working toward an agreement that could be voted on by the Legislature next week. Republican leaders said they agreed to temporarily waive a one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, something Evers had pushed for.

“Our hope is to get a bill that everyone can vote for,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.

Evers floated a roughly $700 million aid package last week that Republicans dismissed. He unveiled another package on Wednesday that would cut taxes for low income people; waive penalties and interest for property tax payments; increase funding for Medicaid providers; create a COVID-19 reinsurance program to lower health insurance premiums; and provide grants for food assistance and meal delivery.

He also called for the state to spend as much is necessary to pay for unemployment claims, rather than have businesses shoulder the cost through an unemployment insurance tax increase. Evers also wants to borrow $100 million for costs associated with a possible suspension of construction projects.

The exact cost of Evers’ second package wasn’t immediately clear, but combined with the initial one they easily exceeded $1 billion.

Republicans have said they want to better understand the $2.3 billion aid package coming to Wisconsin as part of the federal stimulus before proceeding.

Evers declared a public health emergency on March 12 and since then more than 240,000 unemployment claims have been filed as schools and businesses have closed and people sheltered in place. The Marquette poll showed that 9% of respondents have lost their job.

Vos and Fitzgerald said they didn’t support extending the emergency order indefinitely as Evers has requested.

As of Wednesday, there were more than 1,500 confirmed cases in the state and 24 deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services. The state is only counting deaths in which COVID-19 is listed on the death certificate, which may partially explain why local health departments have different totals, said Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff.

Of the confirmed cases, 398 have been hospitalized. The state hasn’t said how many are currently hospitalized.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The Marquette poll showed Evers had his highest approval ratings since he took office last year, 65%, up from 51% in February. President Donald Trump’s approval rating was unchanged from February at 48%, and 51% said they approved of how he was handling the coronavirus crisis.

The survey shows 86% of respondents support closing schools and businesses and restricting public gatherings as Evers ordered. And 79% said they support the government providing direct payments to people.

The poll of 813 registered voters in Wisconsin was conducted between March 24 and Sunday. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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