Community Action News
2019 WISCAP Annual Report

2019 WISCAP Annual Report

The 2019 WISCAP Annual Report gives a glimpse at the work Wisconsin’s Poverty Fighting Network accomplished in 2019.

A Letter from our Executive Director

Approximately one in ten Wisconsinites live in poverty. The Federal poverty threshold, the traditional measure of economic distress, classifies as ‘poor’ a household of three earning less than $21,330 per year. But using a broader measure of financial hardship, the recent United Way ALICE Study revealed that 34% of Wisconsinites struggle to afford the necessities of child care, health care, housing, food, and transportation. These are households living above the official poverty threshold, but not earning enough to afford basic household expenses. And then there are the families that often escape the view of most data systems such as the more than 18,000 homeless children and youth throughout the state identified by Wisconsin’s local school districts.

Just as the conditions or causes of poverty are diverse and unique in each individual, demographic, and community – so must be the strategies. Accordingly, we must craft policies and approaches that are appropriately responsive to these realities. The statewide network of sixteen local Community Action Agencies and two single purpose agencies is uniquely positioned to address the grinding poverty that exists in our rural, urban, and suburban communities alike. Toward this end, WISCAP spent much of 2019 listening carefully to the expressed needs of local communities in their fight against poverty and working with our partners and lawmakers to identify solutions. The result of this process was the introduction of the Wisconsin Opportunity Act, comprehensive anti-poverty legislation designed to reduce poverty and fundamentally improve people’s economic circumstances. Moving forward, WISCAP will continue to push for the enactment of this important legislation.

The day-to-day challenges of living in poverty are truly profound. The poor struggle with low-paying jobs, unemployment, high rents, homelessness, food insecurity, skipping doctor visits or needed medicines, and the lack of sick leave and retirement plans. Poverty inflicts a near-constant stress that silently assaults one’s dignity, health and emotional well-being. The people of our state who struggle in these circumstances deserve our respect — and our boldest, most innovative efforts to find solutions. 

Read the 2019 WISCAP Annual Report by visiting the WISCAP Annual Report page



August 21, 2020

Contact: Kassidy Farrey, Communications & Outreach Manager, WISCAP
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (608) 244-4422

The Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP) has been awarded a one-year Rural Business Development Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to provide business development assistance to start up or expand small or emerging businesses and create full-time year-round jobs in small rural communities of under 5,000 people.

WISCAP, through a partnership with six of its member Community Action Agencies (CAAs), will provide technical assistance to small businesses in rural areas throughout 28 counties in Wisconsin. The $133,700 project will make consulting services available to entrepreneurs to start or expand businesses by providing help with feasibility studies, business planning, financial analysis, marketing strategies, access to loans, and pivoting business operations to adapt to the challenges of the Covid-19 landscape. Partnering agencies include ADVOCAP, CAP Services, Central Wisconsin Community Action Council, Couleecap, Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program, and Western Dairyland Economic Opportunity Council.

“Wisconsin businesses have been seriously disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but none more so than small businesses in rural communities” said Brad Paul, WISCAP’s Executive Director.  “When rural businesses struggle to survive – or are forced to shut down – the impact on the community can be enormous and cause proportionally greater economic damage than in more populated areas.  This USDA grant will enable Community Action Agencies to bring their business development expertise to the smallest towns and villages, helping start-up and expand non-farm businesses that create rural jobs. There has never been a better strategy to improve incomes and stabilize families than creating good jobs at local companies with deep community roots.”

The USDA grant builds on over 30 years of WISCAP’s successful Job & Business Development program that has assisted low-income entrepreneurs to start or expand small businesses.  Since 1989 JBD has launched over 2,285 small businesses and created over 6,252 Wisconsin jobs.

For more information on this program, contact Heidi O’Brien at 608-244-4422 or at [email protected]

2020 WISCAP Annual Awards

2020 WISCAP Annual Awards

The 2020 WISCAP Annual Awards was held virtually yesterday, July 30, 2020.  WISCAP presented these awards on behalf of its network of sixteen Community Action Agencies, the Foundation for Rural Housing, and UMOS so as to recognize individuals or organizations who have gone above and beyond in helping to improve and further the goals of Community Action in Wisconsin in fighting poverty. In attendance was the Lieutenant Governor, Mandela Barnes, who presented the 23rd Annual Governor’s Excellence in Community Action Award.

Gaylord Nelson Human Services Award
The Gaylord Nelson Human Services Award recognizes a Democratic lawmaker for outstanding support of Community Action and low-income families. This year’s recipient is Senator Janet Bewley, who was nominated by Millie Rounsville, Executive Director of Northwestern Wisconsin Community Services Agency.

Senator Bewley has a distinguished career serving the people of Northern Wisconsin as Senior Community Development Officer at WHEDA (Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority) City Councilor on the Ashland City Council, two term member of the Assembly representing the 74th District, and current Wisconsin State Senator and Minority Leader.

As a member of the Committee on Education, Committee on Universities, Technical Colleges, Children and Families and the Committee on Utilities and Housing, Senator Bewley has championed greater investments in infrastructure, schools, skills training, rural transportation and affordable housing. She was also a co-sponsor of comprehensive anti-poverty legislation, the Wisconsin Opportunity Act (SB 467/AB 508), in the 2019 session.

To watch the Gaylord Nelson Human Services Award and hear Senator Janet Bewley’s acceptance, watch the video below.


William Steiger Human Services Award
The William Steiger Human Services Award is given in recognition of a Republican lawmaker for outstanding support of Community Action and low-income families.

This year’s recipient at the 2020 WISCAP Annual Awards was Representative Jim Steineke and he was nominated by Nicole Harrison, CEO of CAP Services.

State Representative Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) has emerged as a leading voice in the Wisconsin State Assembly to address the issue of homelessness. He was instrumental in the formation of the state’s Interagency Council on Homelessness and, in 2019, he took the lead on efforts to secure greater investments in emergency shelter, case management, and workforce development. As both author and organizer around bi-partisan legislation designed to support local efforts to fight homelessness, Rep. Steinke has helped to elevate the severity of homelessness in our communities while forwarding meaningful solutions.

“Just a few years ago, homelessness was not on anyone’s radar, Republican or Democrat,” Rep. Steineke has observed. “I am incredibly proud that our work has created a bipartisan wave of support, allowing us to really home in on the best ways we can help those in need find a place to call home.”

To watch the William Steiger Human Services Award and hear Representative Jim Steineke’s acceptance, watch the video below.


Self-Sufficiency Award

The Self-Sufficiency Award recognizes an individual who, with the aid of their local Community Action Agency, has overcome poverty and achieved self-sufficiency. Caroline Grover was the recipient of this award and she was nominated by Krista Heinz, Work N Wheels Program Specialist at Couleecap. Caroline has overcome multiple obstacles in recent years, just one of them being transportation issues. Couleecap was able to assist her with a car loan in the Work-N-Wheels Program to ensure Caroline’s continued success.

To read Caroline’s moving story, read her nomination below and watch her receive her award at the virtual awards ceremony.

Outstanding Friend of Community Action Award

The Outstanding Friend of Community Action Award recognizes an individual or group outside of the CAA Network, whose actions have promoted or enhanced the efforts and services of community action. This year’s recipient was Michele Engh, Pastor of the Immanual Lutheran Church. Michele was nominated by Hetti Brown, Executive Director of Couleecap, for her passion towards community action. She has been a tireless advocate for ending poverty in both her current position, and in her past work as an employee for Couleecap (2007 to 2014), her various roles in county government, and her work with other nonprofit organizations. You can read the entire nomination below, as well as watch her receive the award at the virtual awards ceremony.


23rd Annual Governor’s Award for Excellence in Community Action

In order to highlight the critical work Community Action Agencies are performing during this unprecedented time, the 23rd Annual Governor’s Award for Excellence in Community Action was changed slightly at the 2020 WISCAP Annual Awards to recognize an outstanding program or project that especially exemplifies the spirit of community action during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes presented Couleecap with the award for their COVID-19 Response Plan – Action is Our Middle Name. [You can visit a list of Couleecap’s current resources here]

Couleecap (who serves Crawford, La Crosse, Monroe and Vernon counties) launched their response plan in March with three principles:

1. To quickly mobilize resources to respond to sudden, unexpected unemployment and business closures;

2. Distribute those resources broadly across the community and make accessing them as barrier-free as possible;

3. And lastly, to invest additional resources and effort into targeted programs serving the most vulnerable populations.

Couleecap was extremely successful in launching a quick and innovative response to COVID-19. To learn about all of their unique efforts and accomplishments, watch the Lt. Gov’s speech below.


Associated Bank Invests in Community Action 2020

Associated Bank Invests in Community Action

June 8, 2020

For Immediate Release: June 8, 2020
Contact: Kassidy Farrey, Communications & Outreach Manager, WISCAP

Madison, WI – WISCAP is excited to announce Associated Bank’s recent philanthropic investment of $117,500 in Wisconsin’s community action network. The announced fund is the second such award made to WISCAP by Associated over the past two years and comes as the Bank has aggressively supported communities across the region in responding to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Associated Bank and WISCAP share a common goal of creating stronger communities through economic development. This investment will specifically expand access for low-and moderate-income communities in the areas of homeownership, home repair, small business, financial literacy, and workforce development programs. In addition, it will increase staff capacity and give local community action agencies the ability to bolster case management, client identification and enrollment in trainings, business development, and access to affordable housing and repair.

“By partnering with WISCAP, Associated Bank continues to demonstrate a positive commitment to the communities where they have a presence,” said Brad Paul, Executive Director of WISCAP. “It is crucial that we expand housing opportunities and job and skill training for low to moderate income Wisconsinites. Our network exists to fight poverty and help people faced with its effects. This meaningful investment by Associated Bank will allow us to advance that mission.”

Associated Senior Vice President and Director of Community Accountability LaDonna Reed added, “the community action network in Wisconsin shares our focus around economic and community development, making this grant a keystone investment in the future of Wisconsin’s rural and urban communities.  We are excited to partner with WISCAP and leverage their insight into the poverty fighting and community development efforts by member agencies.  We know our shared communities will benefit from this investment in Community Action’s proven mission, programs, and impact.”

The Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP) is the statewide association for Wisconsin’s sixteen (16) Community Action agencies and two single-purpose agencies with statewide focus. You can learn more about WISCAP at

WISCAP Statement on Recent Events

WISCAP Statement on Recent Events

June 3, 2020

The malicious killing of George Floyd has once again laid bare the ugly, persistent reality of racism and inequality in America.

WISCAP and the agencies that comprise our network stand committed to creating a more just and equitable society that rejects discrimination based on divisions of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and immigration status. Community Action was born of the War on Poverty and as such is inextricably linked to the civil rights movement. As great social and economic unrest consumes our state and nation, we must renew and deepen our commitment to racial and ethnic equality, recognizing our common humanity and kinship with all people.

Overcoming racism within our communities and institutions will take more than vague sentiment – it requires the active, affirmative, personal recognition of the truth of the inherent dignity and intrinsic worth of all peoples. Racism and classism ignore that truth and seek to exclude and divide. Together these forces have long cast a dark shadow over our state. Consider the grim statistics that more than one in ten Wisconsinites live in poverty and that over 18,000 children and youth in our state are homeless. Yet within these figures lay hidden some of the nation’s greatest racial and ethnic disparities. The poverty rate for African Americans, Hmong, and Hispanics is dramatically higher than that for whites. The black child poverty rate is among the highest in the nation. And African Americans and Native Americans suffer the highest mortality rates of any in our state. To be certain, the ignorance of racism drives and sustains inequity and discrimination in housing, employment, education, criminal justice, and health outcomes. It increases the suffering of so many, while curtailing opportunity and hope. And, as so many of our fellow Wisconsinites struggle to secure equal justice and opportunity, we must recognize that racism and classism diminishes all of us.

The community action network stands together with all who work daily toward a more just culture of racial equity and economic opportunity.

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