Weekly News Roundup: Friday, July 2

Miss the headlines this week? Learn more about fire danger, federal efforts to expand pay for firefighters and access to telehealth services.
A new report form the Equality State Policy Center, the Wyoming Women’s Foundation and the Wyoming Council for Women highlights the crucial role of women in the state's economy.

Biden Pledges to Raise Wages for Federal Firefighters

President Biden held a virtual meeting with the governors of several Western states Wednesday to discuss how to address a record-breaking heatwave and a wildfire season that is already well underway. Biden pledged to raise wages for federal firefighters from $13 to $15 an hour and to extend their season so they can work as long as necessary. The president also focused on how extreme weather events driven by climate change are contributing to longer, more intense wildfire seasons.

“There are already about 9,000 firefighters deployed across the region from California to New Mexico to Utah and Nevada and it’s only June,” Biden said. “I realize I’m preaching to the choir here–I know you all know this better than any other people in the country.”

Republican Governor Mark Gordon of Wyoming was expected to attend Wednesday’s meeting, but the governors of Idaho and Montana said they were not invited, adding that the event was held with “mostly Democrats.” In a joint letter to Biden Wednesday, the governors said, “We were disappointed to learn not all Western states who face a harsh wildfire season will be at the table.”

Yellowstone Increases Fire Danger to ‘Very High’

Yellowstone authorities recently raised the fire danger in the park to ‘Very High,’ and the park implemented several fire restrictions effective immediately. In a Facebook Live presentation Thursday morning, Fire Management Officer for the park John Cataldo provided tips for how to remain safe over Independence Day weekend, and not start any unwelcome blazes. 

“Fires are going to start easily if you’re careless or if we get lightning. And we expect them to spread pretty readily…which is a lot of conditions over 80 degrees.”

Charcoal and wood campfires in the backcountry, including in established fire rings, are prohibited as of Thursday, as is smoking. Stoves and campfires are still permitted in front-country campsites, such as Mammoth and Indian Creek. 

Women in Wyoming Workforce a Major Driver of State Economy

The state of Wyoming would lose at least $45 million in GDP if every woman in the state stayed home from work for just one day. That’s one of the main findings of a new report from the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, the Equality State Policy Center and the Wyoming Council for Women.

“Women are really a huge component of Wyoming’s economy, and that’s true even when women are only 40% of the workforce and also when women are occupying a huge percentage of low-wage jobs in the state,” said Jen Simon, a senior policy advisor to the Equality State Policy Center and the main author of the report. “So, if women are huge drivers now, imagine what happens when they’re making a little bit more money.”

Speaking during a virtual panel Monday, Simon said she hopes the report will motivate policy changes that will work to reduce Wyoming’s gender wage gap. Women earn less than their male counterparts across all industries in the state, according to the report, and they make 70% of the median annual wages earned by men. Childcare was also discussed Monday as an essential requirement for encouraging women’s participation in the workforce. 

“I look at childcare as kind of like a big Jenga, and you pull one piece out from the bottom of the structure and the whole thing falls apart,” said Jennifer Wilmetti, chair of the Wyoming Council for Women and a high school teacher in Rock Springs.

In addition to securing access to high-quality, affordable childcare, the report recommends specific policies like extending paid family and sick leave and raising the minimum wage in order to strengthen Wyoming’s economy.

Cheney Introduces Bill to Expand Pandemic Telehealth to Medicare Recipients

Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney introduced a bill last week that would expand pandemic telehealth services to Medicare recipients. Speaking to Good Morning Wyoming Tuesday, Cheney discussed why it’s critical for the state to continue to offer virtual healthcare sessions, particularly for senior citizens. 

“This is an issue that has really been important for some time and what we saw during COVID was that Medicare was willing to change some of the rules and provide some exceptions, providing reimbursement for telehealth medical treatment,” she said. “And because that is such an important issue for us here in Wyoming, people have to travel long distances to see doctors, I began thinking about and looking at ways that we could make those exceptions permanent.”

Cheney attempted to pass similar legislation last year, with no luck, but she has added a co-sponsor this time around. A barrier to telehealth in rural parts of Wyoming is a lack of broadband internet access across the state. Cheney said she hopes this bill gets around that issue by adding coverage for audio-only healthcare visits.

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