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Economy a Challenge for Most of Wisconsin

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 26 January 2018
in Wisconsin

lines-farmsMeasures of the economy are split, with some booming counties and others struggling. We need to use our funds wisely when we invest in schools, roads and economic development.

MADISON - Wisconsin’s economy is recovering in some factors, but in general the measures are split and the divide between the economy of booming counties and struggling counties continues to grow. What does that mean and how can we fix it? That just means that the State of Wisconsin needs to use our funds wisely when we invest in schools, roads and economic development.

The unemployment rate in Wisconsin remains at the low rate of 3% according to December 2017 data. That low number is largely driven by a few high population areas in the state that have the lowest rate of unemployment like the Madison area which is as low as 2.1% unemployment. Whether unemployment rate is a good measure of the economy is certainly an open topic for debate, but it is a fact that Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has consistently trended below the national rate for 30 years. While there are more people working in Wisconsin, more people in the workforce is a reflection of more people in the state, it is that simple.

Our neighbors, Minnesota created new private sector jobs at a faster rate than Wisconsin in 22 of 24 quarters since the 2011 state budget. And over six years, Minnesota added 10.8% new private sector jobs, 23rd in the nation where Wisconsin only created 8.5%, 34th in the nation.

Another measure of the state economy is our poverty rate. Unlike unemployment that simply measures if people are working, the poverty rate measures people that are living below the Federal poverty rate, even if they are working. In 2016, the percentage of people living below the Federal poverty line, less than $24,250 for a family of four, was 11.8% that is 683,867 people. The rate of children living in poverty is higher at 16%. This is just another example of why our investments in education and other supports for children in poverty are essential. Wisconsin deserves equal opportunity for our children regardless of where they live or family income.

School spending is certainly a driving factor behind equal opportunity in Wisconsin and after historic cuts of $1.1 billion in public education funding under the current Governor and majority, the slow crawl to increase funding should be faster. School aids in Wisconsin remain $175 million dollars below even inflationary costs since 2010-2011. That is why we must invest our additional education dollars fairly. This past budget gave a bump to every student in the state, but all schools are simply not funded the same because of the value of local property. Wisconsin deserves schools that are funded fairly regardless of where you live and how expensive the houses in your community are.

There is always room to improve our overall economy for the people of Wisconsin. Focusing across the state whether you live in a rural, urban or suburban economy is essential because wasted human potential is wasted opportunity for our state.


For more information on state support for working families and the state economy call 608-266-6670 or 888-549-0027 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Senator Chris Larson remarks on Gov. Walker’s ‘State of the State’

Posted by Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson (D) is the Wisconsin State Senator from the 7th District in Milwauk
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on Thursday, 25 January 2018
in Wisconsin

walker-state-denialThe Governor's smooth talking spin on the State of our State ignores the facts that reflect the reality our neighbors are facing every day.

MADISON, WI – On Wednesday the legislature gathered once again to hear Governor Walker’s State of the State address. True to form Governor Walker donned his rose-colored glasses and told the state that our lackluster economy, healthcare crisis, underfunded schools, job creation failures, dismantled environmental safeguards, threats to our drinking water, and struggling middle class are not a problem. Like Trump, he is ignoring the facts that reflect the reality our neighbors are facing every day.

Just a few things Governor Walker is running away from:

 Rejecting the Medicaid expansion for the people of Wisconsin, costing our taxpayers over $700 million  Selling out our state’s future to a foreign company, costing taxpayers a staggering $4.5 billion

 Pushing for the dismantling of our conservation heritage

 Devastating the ability of our neighborhood schools to educate our children by cutting nearly $1 billion for their futures. Cutting more money from public schools than ever before

On behalf of my neighbors, I will continue to fight for a fair economy that expands opportunities for families and strengthens our community. I am committed to:

 Strengthening our neighborhood schools by restoring the over $1 billion in state aid that was cut by Republicans

 Making child care more affordable and expanding access to paid leave

 Updating our infrastructure to meet the needs of our current generation

 Adequately funding lead abatement to stop the poisoning of our children

 Protecting our environment

 Legalizing the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana

 Protecting and promoting Wisconsin born and grown businesses

Despite the smooth talk offered by the governor, Wisconsinites are still stuck cleaning up Walker’s mess of the last seven years. His apparent rush from his record of partisan extremes is a little too late to mediate the damage he has done. Our neighbors are calling out for sensible leadership that will serve the people, not just the wealthy and well-connected.

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State of the State Address

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30 has not set their biography yet
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on Thursday, 25 January 2018
in Wisconsin

walkerGov. Walker can spin his record anyway he wants, but is more spin what we really needed?

GREEN BAY - The Governor’s latest series of flip flops on health care, education and the lack of jobs in our rural communities just shows how desperate he is about his chances in the upcoming election.

- Not that long ago he took President Trump’s side in supporting the ability of insurance companies to deny people with preexisting conditions.

- In his first term he inflicted the biggest cut to our public schools in our state’s history—costing many of our schools some of their best teachers and forcing local school districts to beg taxpayers for enough money to keep the lights on.

- And offering $50 million to rural communities in north and western Wisconsin is a pittance compared to the $4 billion he is giving to a Taiwanese billionaire to help create jobs for people living in northern Illinois.

Governor Walker has also failed to keep his promise to create 250,000 jobs.  He has failed to take responsibility for driving our transportation system into the ditch, and he has signed into law some of the most egregious corporate attacks on our environmental protections that will lead to more of our wetlands being lost and more of our lakes, streams and drinking water being polluted.

And, despite his claims to the contrary, Governor Walker has still done absolutely nothing to lower student loan payments for the over 800,000 people in this state who are struggling under the weight of high cost student loans.

Governor Walker can spin his record anyway he wants, but as we have seen around the country and in western Wisconsin, the people want change.  And next fall they will have the ultimate say on whether his speech today was a success.

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Walker Shift on Health Care Not Enough

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
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on Wednesday, 24 January 2018
in Wisconsin

walker-healthplan-2015Will not undo damage from years of sabotage says non-partisan healthcare group. Opening BadgerCare as a public option, and other reforms, are needed to make coverage affordable.

STATEWIDE - Citizen Action of Wisconsin released its preliminary response on Monday to the health care proposals Governor Scott Walker will unveil Wednesday in his State of the State Address.

Walker’s sudden interest in addressing the health insurance affordability crisis will not undo the damage his 7 years of sabotage has done, let alone make coverage affordable for most Wisconsinites. In addition, Walker’s proposal on pre-existing condition exclusions would still leave many vulnerable to life-threatening insurance discrimination.

healthcare-rates-gbWhile Walker’s admission that state government has a role to play in making health care affordable is a small step forward, his proposed policies pale in comparison to the scale of the problem and do not make up for the damage done by his ongoing efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to research released by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, premiums and deductibles have increased by a combined 209% in Wisconsin since 2000, and far more in some regions.

The centerpiece of Walker’s proposal, which will be unveiled in his State of the State Address on Wednesday, is a reinsurance plan which pays public money to health insurance companies for high-cost patients. Walker’s plan to give more public subsidies to insurance companies impacts very few Wisconsinites who are struggling to afford health coverage, and would result in only a moderate impact on affordability.

Reinsurance will not reduce the premiums of 83% of the Wisconsinites who buy health coverage through the ACA marketplace and receive tax subsidies. It will not effect deductibles or copays and will not help small businesses. Although it will modestly help the 17% of enrollees who make too much money to be eligible to federal tax credits, it will according to national research lower premiums only by an average of 4%. According to Citizen Action Wisconsin research, premiums increased by over 50% statewide from 2017-2018 and by even more in some areas of the state.

There are a number of far more effective policy changes that would make health coverage much more affordable if we deployed the full power of state government.

  1. Opening BadgerCare to everyone in Wisconsin as a public option would, at no cost to the state, reduce premiums and deductibles by an average of 24%. It would also help people who buy insurance on their own and small businesses, most of whom cannot afford to provide coverage to their employees.

  2. Reversing Walker’s decision to turn down the Medicaid expansion money in the ACA could reduce premiums by about 7%.

  3. Reversing the Walker Administration's decision to allow the sale of substandard plans in Wisconsin could reduce premiums by as much as 10%.

Walker’s new interest in protecting people with pre-existing conditions from discrimination by insurance companies is grossly inadequate. His proposal would allow insurance companies to trample upon the rights of anyone who’s had a gap in coverage, and does next to nothing to prevent people with serious health conditions from being priced out of coverage.

Walker’s sudden reversal does not go nearly far enough to the reverse the damage he has done through his ceaseless efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act. As Citizen Action of Wisconsin has continuously documented, the Walker Administration has sought to sabotage the ACA by encouraging healthy people to buy substandard policies outside of the market, refusing to enact robust rate review. turning down Medicaid expansion, hamstringing health care navigators, rubber stamping health insurance industry mega mergers, and seeking waivers that would allow insurance companies to take larger profits. Taken together the Walker Administration has aided and abetted the ongoing effort of the national for-profit insurance companies to continue to insure healthy people and find ways to avoid covering people with pre-existing health conditions.

“It is amazing that the best Walker can come up with to address skyrocketing health care costs is more public subsidies for insurance companies. Walker’s refusal to use the power of state government to guarantee affordable health care makes it impossible for him to meaningfully address the affordability crisis,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Insurance and pharmaceutical corporations are not in the business of securing affordable health care; they are driven by profit imperatives dictated by Wall Street. That’s why insurance companies will deny coverage to sick people and pharmaceutical corporations will price gouge if we let them. It is a simple truth that only “we the people,” through the agency of our own democratic government, can guarantee health care to everyone in Wisconsin.”

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FoodShare Bill "Kicking Us When We Are Down"

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 23 January 2018
in Wisconsin

grocery-store-checkoutA new bill pending in the Senate would require FoodShare participants to show a photo ID at the store. History has shown such a requirement is very costly and has little impact on fraud, a problem Wisconsin took far more effective steps in the past to reduce.

MADISON - The little girl walked home through the snow. She took the longer route. Mom asked her to stop at the store to buy milk. She touched the coupons and note. She couldn’t lose them. Mom was so sick with cancer.

Some little girl might be asked next year to show a photo ID to get milk. The Senate Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations committee recently had a hearing on a bill to require those using FoodShare to show a photo ID. Advocates argued this would treat people in need of help in an undignified way, add unneeded bureaucracy and increase government expenses without reducing fraud.

FoodShare is Wisconsin’s version of the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”. SNAP has the strongest program integrity, or fraud prevention, standards of any federal program. For example, the old Food Stamp program used paper coupons. Under President Clinton, states moved to a plastic card that operates like a debit card, dramatically cutting down on fraud.

On average, eligible families receive $1.39 per person per meal, according to recent testimony from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. People often are on the program for a short time. A Department of Agriculture study found a little more than half of new participants stay on SNAP for less than a year.

In Wisconsin, a quarter of recipients are elderly, blind or have a disability. Forty-three percent are children. Forty percent have jobs. During the hearing, we learned the state worked hard to reduce fraud and now has an accuracy rate (benefits properly going to those eligible) of ninety-nine percent.

Efforts made to fix problems in FoodShare included reducing the many errors made by those working in the system. Wisconsin had a history of being a state with one of the highest error rates in the nation. Changes made under Governor Doyle resulted in bonus payments for improvements. However, problems remained.

Audits conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) found problems with the Department of Health (DHS) oversight of the FoodShare program. Prisoners were still receiving benefits, reports showing fraud were not being read or acted upon, and fraud investigators were woefully understaffed. State work was sent to private companies in violation of federal law.

DHS responded with many changes. Workers can now verify social security numbers in real time. This process helped eliminate prison inmates who continued to receive benefits.

Selling or buying a card is illegal. DHS maintains a Trafficking Enforcement and Audit Unit that reviews the details of requests for replacement of lost cards. This unit identifies vendor (grocery store) fraud. It works with local agencies to share fraud-related data and conducts fraud and misuse audits. In addition, an Investigation and Technical Assistance Unit follows up on calls to the fraud hotline among many other aspects of fraud investigation.

This work paid off. Last spring, DHS announced two people were facing criminal charges for FoodShare fraud. One man requested 13 cards in 12 months. The data obtained by our system showed purchases made by multiple people using the man’s personal ID number.

The Department reported in 2016 that almost 1400 people were suspended from the program compared to 203 in 2012. Of those, 113 resulted in criminal prosecution. The new system was put in place in 2013.

Photo IDs for SNAP is not a new idea. In fact, many states tried to require photo IDs and stopped. Missouri stopped using photo IDs in 2001 because they did not show significant cost savings. Massachusetts abandon the program under Governor Romney. One problem is that federal rules require that SNAP beneficiaries not be treated differently at a grocery story. This means stores would be required to ask EVERYONE for an ID.

The program is expensive. To start the program would cost over $7 ½ million and another $1.6 million as ongoing costs.

Getting assistance to those who need it and getting rid of fraud are goals we all share. But let’s be smart about the rules. Unnecessary or politically motivated rules result in wasted dollars and fewer folks signing up who truly need help.

Long-term studies show the supplemental nutrition program resulted in marked reduction in serious nutrition problems among children. My family and I are part of the success story. The little girl in the story was me.

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