1. WCC Priorities in State Budget
2. Joint Finance Public Hearings on State Budget
3. Breakout Sessions and Registration for Catholics at the Capitol, April 8
4. Websites of Interest
WCC Priorities in State Budget
While they contain numerous facts, data, and projections, state budgets are documents through which our state makes choices and sets priorities. They are about how needs are met and which are deferred or denied. As such, they are moral documents that define the values of those who enact them.
While the WCC does not take a position for or against the state budget as a whole, it does address aspects of the budget that advance or hinder important priorities. For Catholics, a vital priority is always that of meeting the needs of the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized. In giving voice to the needs of those "on the margins" we call your attention to several budget provisions that deserve to be included in the final document and to others that should be removed. We also urge that one item not currently in the budget be made part of the bill before it is enacted.
The WCC asks Update readers to advocate on the following main issues:
ITEMS THAT SHOULD BE RETAINED IN OR ADDED TO THE BUDGET
- Parental Choice Program expansion and reform. Support the provision expanding parental choice throughout the state for lower income families so that these families can choose schools that other more affluent families select for their children.
- Family Care. Retain the current cost-effective model of Family Care and support the provision expanding Family Care to all Wisconsin counties so that more elders and people with disabilities can receive vital long-term care.
- Mental health and substance abuse programs. Support the provision to expand coverage for the treatment portion of residential substance abuse treatment. Also support the provision to consolidate certain mental health funds with Community Aids, which would permit greater flexibility in their use, but only if there is a mechanism to make certain these funds remain dedicated to mental health treatment.
- Child survivors of sex trafficking. Support the provision adding $2 million in Fiscal Year 2016-17 for treatment services to sex-trafficked children and specifically targeting rural areas.
- Survivors of domestic violence. Support the provision adding $5 million in Fiscal Year 2016-17 to expand services to survivors of domestic violence and their families.
- Medicaid expansion. While not in the budget, the WCC supports accepting federal funds available to Wisconsin under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). Not only would this provide health coverage to more people of limited means, but it would make needed General Purpose Revenue (GPR) funds available for other pressing needs, e.g., education, community aids, correction reform, etc.
ITEMS THAT SHOULD NOT BE INCLUDED IN THE BUDGET
- Drug testing of public benefits recipients. Oppose the provisions that certain applicants for Unemployment Insurance benefits, applicants for Transform Milwaukee, Transitional Jobs, Children First, and Trial Employment Match Program, and childless adults seeking FoodShare and/or Medicaid benefits, submit to drug screenings and drug tests. If applicants refuse drug tests then they will be deemed ineligible for these programs. If applicants test positive, then they will have to participate in a drug treatment program and submit to random drug testing during treatment. Those who relapse could be denied public benefits.
The WCC opposes this testing for the following reasons:
Lifetime Wisconsin Works (W-2) time limit. Oppose the provision to reduce the Wisconsin Works (W-2) lifetime time limits from 60 months to 48 months because it imposes excessive hardship on those least likely to become self-sufficient, even in a healthy economy. The 60-month limit should be retained, especially when our definition of "full employment" still leaves so many out of work. Medicaid (BadgerCare) childless adults.
- The required testing unfairly singles out and stigmatizes the poor and unemployed. The state budget does not require higher income individuals who benefit from government assistance (student loans, small business loans, farm subsidies, etc.) to be tested in the same way, and yet evidence shows that addiction affects individuals at all income levels.
- Experience in other states demonstrates that this type of drug testing is expensive to administer, identifies few instances of drug abuse, and ends up denying benefits to deserving individuals.
- Denying qualified applicants FoodShare benefits has been found unconstitutional because it violates the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects against search and seizure without probable cause.
- Drug testing FoodShare applicants will increase hunger in Wisconsin as deserving individuals, including those with no history of drug use, are either unable or unwilling to take the drug tests. Both adults and their children will be affected.
- Wisconsin's Catholic Charities directors advise that most of those in treatment relapse many times before achieving lasting recovery and denying them essential benefits would just impede recovery. Denying assistance for basic needs has never been shown to help a person overcome a drug addiction.
Oppose the provision requiring the Department of Health Services (DHS) to seek a federal waiver requesting the authority to impose monthly premiums on non-disabled, childless adult BadgerCare recipients. These recipients have annual incomes of less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, i.e., less than $11,770 for one person. Requiring premiums of such poor individuals is unjust.
- The budget would also institute drug and health screenings for these childless adults as a condition of eligibility. No other state makes such a requirement, which will have the effect of barring access to needed health care.
- Finally, the budget would impose a 48-month enrollment limit on these recipients. Unless these individuals would succeed in rising above the poverty line, this would mean that they could spend the rest of their lives without health care coverage.
To learn more about these issues, contact our office (608-257-0004) or attend Catholics at the Capitol on April 8. See below for registration information.
Joint Finance Public Hearings on State Budget
The Joint Committee on Finance, which is charged with the first revision of Governor Walker's budget, will hold four public hearings around the state starting next week. Readers are encouraged to attend and make their concerns known.
Wednesday, March 18 (10:00am- 5:00pm)
Brillion High School
Endries Performing Arts Center
W1101 County Road HR
Brillion, WI 54110
Friday, March 20 (10:00am- 5:00pm)
3400 South 43rd Street
Milwaukee, WI 53234
Monday, March 23 (10:00am- 5:00pm)
University of Wisconsin-Barron County
Fine Arts Theatre
1800 College Drive
Rice Lake, WI 54868
Thursday, March 26 (9:30am to 4:00pm)
Reedsburg High School
CAL Center Auditorium
1100 South Albert Avenue
Reedsburg, WI 53959
Here are some tips on testifying at these hearings:
- Arrive early and complete a registration form, which are available from the legislative pages who staff the hearing.
- Plan on keeping your comments to two or three minutes. Committee members will follow up with questions if they want to know more.
- Give personal or specific examples of why you support or oppose a budget item.
- If possible, have written copies of your testimony for the committee. If you have to leave before you are called to testify, you may leave the written testimony with a page, who will make sure the committee members receive it.
If you can't make these hearings, you can submit written comments to the Joint Committee on Finance up until the end of Friday, March 27 in one of three ways: 1) via email at BudgetComments@legis.wisconsin.gov, 2) via U.S. mail to: Joe Malkasian, Room 305 East, State Capitol, Madison, WI 53702, or 3) by contacting one or more members of the Committee directly. Members' address information can be found by clicking on each of their names below.
Senator Alberta Darling, Co-Chair
Senator Luther Olsen
Senator Sheila Harsdorf
Senator Tom Tiffany
Senator Tom Tiffany
Senator Howard Marklein
Senator Lena Taylor
Senator Jon Erpenbach
Representative John Nygren, Co-Chair
Representative Dale Kooyenga
Representative Amy Loudenbeck
Representative Dean Knudson
Representative Michael Schraa
Representative Mary Czaja
Representative Chris Taylor
Representative Gordon Hintz
Even after the public hearings have concluded, you will still have several weeks to contact your own legislators to share your views on the budget before each of the houses takes up the bill.
Registration for Catholics at the Capitol, April 8
Registration materials and online registration via PayPal or VISA/MasterCard, are available on our website.