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Census: Relief payments staved off hardship (copy) (copy)

WASHINGTON — Massive government relief passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic moved millions of Americans out of poverty last year, even as the official poverty rate increased slightly, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

The official poverty measure showed an increase of 1 percentage point in 2020, with 11.4% of Americans living in poverty, or more than 37 million people. It was the first increase in poverty after five consecutive annual declines.

But the Census Bureau’s supplemental measure of poverty, which takes into account government benefit programs and stimulus payments, showed that the share of people in poverty dropped significantly after the aid was factored in.

The supplemental poverty measure was 2.6 percentage points lower than its pre-pandemic level in 2019. Stimulus payments moved 11.7 million people out of poverty, while expanded unemployment benefits kept 5.5 million from falling into poverty. Social Security continued to be the nation’s most effective anti-poverty program.

“This really highlights the importance of our social safety net,” said Liana Fox, chief of the Census’ poverty statistics bureau.

That finding is likely to resonate in a divided Congress, where President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” plan faces uncertain prospects. Two anchors of last year’s COVID response — enhanced unemployment benefits and a federal eviction moratorium — have expired, adding to concerns.

The Census reports released Tuesday cover income, poverty and health insurance, and amount to an annual check-up on the economic status of average Americans. The reports are based on extensive surveys and analysis.

During last year’s epic economic collapse, employers shed 22.4 million jobs in March and April, the sharpest decline since records began in the 1940s. Weekly applications for unemployment benefits topped 6 million in a single week in April, by far the highest on record. Since then, the economy has recovered three-quarters of those lost jobs, but the U.S. still has 5.3 million fewer positions than before the pandemic.

A basic barometer of the economic health of the middle class registered the shock.

The median — or midpoint — household income decreased by 2.9% to $67,521 in 2020. The median is a statistical dividing line, with half of American households having lower incomes and the other half, higher. It was the first statistically significant drop in that measure in nearly a decade.

Driving the erosion, the report found that the number of people with earnings from work fell by about 3 million as the number of full-time year-round workers contracted by some 13.7 million.

But below those toplines there was a story a story of haves and have-nots.

People who held onto steady year-round jobs saw an increase in economic well-being, with their median earnings rising 6.9% after adjusting for inflation. People on the lower rungs of the job market, those with part-time jobs or trying to stay afloat in the gig economy, lost ground as median earnings decreased 1.2% for workers overall.

Despite widespread concerns that the pandemic would make millions more Americans uninsured, health coverage held its own in 2020, the Census found. More than 91% of Americans had insurance, but 28 million were uninsured.

But Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation said the numbers point to some glaring exceptions. For example, 38% of poor working age adults in the dozen states that have not expanded Medicaid were uninsured. Biden’s budget bill would provide a workaround for more than 2 million caught in that coverage gap.

“It would be hard to find a group that struggles more to get access to affordable health care,” Levitt said.

Congress passed five bipartisan COVID-19 response bills last year, totaling close to $3.5 trillion and signed into law by then-President Donald Trump. This year Democrats pushed through President Joe Biden’s nearly $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on party-line votes. Its effects are not reflected in the Census report.

Though some of the federal aid last year was delayed for reasons from wrangling over costs to problems with distribution, on the whole it insulated American families from economic disaster that would have compounded the public health crisis. Some groups were left out, such as people not legally authorized to be in the country.

As Americans fought over measures such as mask wearing and closing down businesses and community life, lawmakers of both parties were motivated to take dramatic action, said economist Bruce Meyer, a University of Chicago expert on poverty.

“You had Democrats who were very focused on helping those who were unemployed and hurting, and you had Republicans who were willing to do many things to help the reelection of their president, so there was a confluence of incentives, or of desires, by politicians on both sides,” he said.

Trump ultimately lost reelection but the Census report provides evidence that’s relevant to the current debate over Biden’s $3.5 trillion social infrastructure plan, said public policy analyst Robert Greenstein of the Brookings Institution think tank.

“For people who have a cynical view that nothing much government does works effectively, particularly on the poverty front, it will be harder to maintain that view,” said Greenstein, who founded the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit advocating on behalf of low-income people.

The Biden economic plan extends tax credits for families with children, which is seen as a strategy for reducing childhood poverty and its long-term consequences.

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Mayville’s Audubon Days starts Friday

MAYVILLE — Audubon Days returns to Mayville this weekend for its 34th year.

“Please join us for Audubon Days 2021,” said committee member Molly Henkel. “The weather looks to be great and this could be our last summer-like weekend, before the crisp fall air sets in. There are many activities throughout the weekend for everyone, so come on out and enjoy our beautiful city. “

The September festival, moved from October because of changeable weather, includes a full day of activities at the Mayville Park Pavilion Saturday, combined with events downtown Friday and Sunday.

The annual festival, except in 2020 due to COVID-19, was started by the Mayville Chamber of Commerce in 1987. The community festival was on the verge of folding in 2019 because it lacked a sponsoring organization. A group of citizens stepped forward, formed a committee and recruited volunteers to keep the event alive. Committee members are Henkel, Bobbie Ebben, Carmen Bauer and Rachel Lee.

Organizers promise an affordable family-friendly weekend of fall fun. Hand sanitizer stations will be posted throughout the festival. Masks are optional.

On Friday night a “No Class Reunion” will be held at the Mayville Legion Post 69, 134 S. Main St., from 4 to 10 p.m. The party is for anyone who went to school or grew up in or around Mayville, and wants to see old friends. Food, drink and live music can also be found downtown in the Mayville Square from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Music will be provided by Dan Zlotnick.

A downtown pub crawl, which began Sept. 1 concludes Friday night. Patrons may visit designated taverns throughout the week to be eligible to win prizes. Anyone interested in participating may stop in at Richie’s Up Ur Alleys, 25 S. Main St., for information. Tickets must be turned in to Richie’s by 8 p.m. Friday night. A drawing for prizes will take place Saturday to be announced during the first band’s break. Participants do not need to be present to win.

A host of activities will take place inside and outside the Mayville Park Pavilion Saturday. From 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., a craft fair will be held upstairs. There will be a wine and mimosa bar downstairs from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Festival-goers are invited to take photos in a selfie area filled with props anytime throughout the day and share their memories on social media.

At 11 a.m., a bags tournament for prizes begins on the south side of the pavilion. Contact Jeremy Budahn at 920-387-5560 to register.

The Kid Zone will operate outside near the bandstand from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Activities include a petting zoo, face painting, balloon animals, tie-dye T-shirts and crafts.

Individuals, groups and businesses are eligible to enter the Audubon Days Scarecrow Contest. Scarecrows can be assembled starting Friday and must be set up by 11 a.m. Saturday. Entries will be displayed outside the pavilion with the winner being chosen by popular vote. Registration forms can be found on Facebook at “Audubon Days 2021” or at Mayville City Hall. The deadline to enter is Thursday. The winner will be announced at 7 p.m.

A variety of food and refreshments, along with raffles and live entertainment will be available, beginning at 11 a.m.

Music is presented free of charge. Unity will play on the outside bandstand from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Open Jam with the “TWO BILLS” will be from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Road Trip will close out the night with a performance inside the pavilion from 7:30 to 11 p.m.

“We have many amazing raffle prizes (need not be present to win) and there will be 50/50 raffles throughout the day,” said Henkel. “During band break (roughly 4:30 p.m.) Bag Tournament winners; and raffle prizes will be announced.”

The weekend wraps up downtown Sunday with an all-you-can-eat breakfast at American Legion Post 69 from 8 a.m. to noon. The menu includes scrambled eggs, waffles, French toast, pancakes, sausages, ham, sweet rolls and other bakery items and a choice of beverages. The cost is $9 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for children 5 and under.

Any questions can be emailed to the committee at

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Housing development coming to Beaver Dam

Construction of a new housing subdivision will start in Beaver Dam next year.

On Monday, the Common Council approved a development agreement with Neumann Developments to build a single-family housing subdivision with roughly 60 lots on a rural property off Ollinger Road and North Crystal Lake Road near the Corporate Drive business park. The city will provide an incentive of up to $6.75 million to the developer to cover construction costs using tax increment financing, essentially as a tax break. TIF incentives are paid from increased tax revenue from new development, not general taxpayer dollars.

The agreement passed unanimously. The property is in the town but will be annexed into the city.

“I’m really proud of this agreement,” said Steve DeCleene, president of Neumann Developments. “It’s almost exactly what we came up with on day one.”

DeCleene said he thinks the deal will be the first of many to happen across Wisconsin as the state experiences a shortage of housing.

Construction has to begin by July 1, 2022. DeCleene said the goal is to get the engineering finalized by the time the snow melts, underground work from May to July, roads paved by October or November and basements dug before the end of the year.

“I don’t see any reason why that can’t happen,” he said.

Council member Mike Wissell said he was disappointed the area has no connection with sidewalks to the city and the site has no designation for a park. DeCleene said Neumann is a fan of parks, but this particular site didn’t set up well for it given its size and lack of features to build a park around.

Under city ordinances, housing developments are typically required to include park land or contribute funds for parks elsewhere in the city.

Council President Cris Olson said the YMCA is close to the site.

“I think the city needs another park like it needs a hole in the head,” said council member Ken Anderson, but he urged the council’s operations committee to work on extending sidewalks from the site to connect it to the YMCA, across Highway 151 and to the rest of the city.

The 22.5 acre property is currently owned by Rose Anne Callies and valued at $133,700, according to county records. The development agreement estimates a land purchase price of $440,000.

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WATCH NOW: Columbus City Hall mask policy quietly enforced during meeting

COLUMBUS – Columbus Police escorted three people out of a school board meeting on Monday who were violating the mask ordinance for Columbus City Hall.

Columbus School Board president Julie Hajewski said that due to mask mandate for Columbus City buildings that masks were required in the city hall. Signs are also placed on the doors entering the building that show the mask ordinance is in effect.

The three people without masks did not move after the announcement, but did leave the building after a Columbus Police Officer came in and spoke to them individually.

Columbus Police Chief Dennis Weiner said even though there were notices in place about the mandate and the board notified those in attendance of the emergency declaration requiring face coverings, the three remained without attempting to put on masks.

“Our department was contacted, responded and the persons left without incident,” Columbus Police Chief Dennis Weiner said. “My understand is the meeting was not disrupted and continued on during the officers interaction.”

Columbus schools have had a mask requirement in effect since the beginning of the school year on Sept 23. The city of Columbus started the mask ordinance Sept. 7.

Masking options were not on the agenda for the school board, but the board was updated about COVID-19 testing being offered at Columbus Middle School and Columbus Elementary School. Superintendent Annette Deuman said that onsite testing is available for students or staff that are symptomatic or a close contact to COVID.

“We are working with the vender who has been identified through the Department of Health Services and hoping to begin the testing as early as next week,” Deuman said. “Again, this is voluntary. It is free of charge to both the school district, our students, families and the staff.”

The testing will be offered weekdays at the middle school from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and at the elementary from 12:15 to 2:45 p.m.

Deuman said there is a process for those who do not want wear a mask to the meeting. They can submit their comments ahead of time to the board via email and the comments would be read at the meeting.

The next meeting for the Columbus Board of Education will be Sept. 27.