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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — A listening session held by U.S. Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI 3rd District) in Menomonie elicited a range of topics, including rural broadband, the 2020 census, veterans and health care.
The listening session was held at the Dunn County Community Services Center on Highway 12/29 on Friday, October 25, and about 50 people attended the event.
Several people spoke on the issue of improving rural broadband services.
One person in the audience lives southwest of Menomonie “in the sticks” and pays $180 per month for satellite Internet for what was described as “not great service.”
As a non-traditional student who has gone back to school, good broadband service is essential. “What’s on the horizon for rural broadband and to help older (returning) students?” she asked.
The number one complaint of businesses is workforce needs in a tight labor market, said Rep. Kind, who noted he is a member of a rural broadband task force.
The public sector is reluctant to make an investment in rural broadband because the return on investment is low, he said.
Mapping must be improved so the areas can be identified where better broadband service is needed, Kind said.
The need for rural broadband is like the need for rural electrification in the 1930s, he said.
James Anderson, a member of the Dunn County Board and chair of the Community, Resources and Tourism Committee, said Dunn County has been Telecommuter Forward certified and is working on Broadband Forward.
The need for better broadband is essential for economic development, he said.
Dennis Smith, who recently retired as sheriff in Dunn County, said he lives south of Jakes Supper Club and can see lights from about a hundred houses from his yard but yet he cannot get wireless Internet service.
Cellular telephone service also is spotty in that area, Smith said.
Broadband also is important for telemedicine, and telemedicine is lacking in rural areas, Kind said.
Several people at the listening session mentioned the importance of the 2020 census.
The Wisconsin counties magazine has an article titled “Make it Count,” and in the last census, 7,000 people in Dunn County were not counted, Anderson said.
Each person who is not counted means a loss in federal funding, he said.
If Dunn County has a population of over 50,000, the county will change from a rural county to a metro county, Anderson said.
Funding for infrastructure, health care and education are all tied to a funding formula based on census, Kind said.
Anderson also noted that he serves on the committee for the Neighbors of Dunn County.
Wisconsin is 50th among the states for Medicaid reimbursement for nursing homes, and an increase in the reimbursement rate is important to help keep the Neighbors and other nursing homes running, he said.
Brad Murphy wondered about funding to help veterans deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“We need to take care of our soldiers and veterans,” he said.
Health care and education budgets continue to be cut, but military spending keeps increasing, Murphy said.
Murphy noted a billion dollars can be added to the military budget for developing an airplane that does not work out, but then the next year, that billion is added into the military budget again because it was in the budget the previous year.
Instead of putting the money back into the military budget again for an airplane that is not being developed, why not allocate it for health care or education, Murphy said.
Kind said he is working on legislation to review outdated weapons.
There is a need for a program to eliminate redundant weapons, he said.
As for PTSD, Rep. Kind said he is working on reforms for the Tomah Veterans Administration hospital.
Two out of every three homeless people in the United States is a veteran, he said.
“We must do a better job,” Kind said.
Several people in the audience noted that in addition to not helping veterans with PTSD, the federal government also is not doing a very good job of helping veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and the health problems they have developed because of that exposure.
A variety of other topics also were broached during the listening session, including the need for immigration reform, a return to civility among citizens and legislators, the impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump, national forests and national monuments, trade agreements and markets for farmers, and mileage rates for volunteer drivers who deliver Meals on Wheels or take senior citizens to appointments.