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Campaign Contributors Benefited from Walker Rejection of BadgerCare Dollars

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.,
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 14 October 2014
in Wisconsin

scottwalker-dreamInsurance Companies getting windfall of public dollars also donated big money to Walker and legislators.


Statewide - On Monday morning, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign called into question relationship between large campaign donations and the rejection of federal funds for BadgerCare. When Governor Walker rejected federal funds for BadgerCare, an estimated 87,000 Wisconsin residents were forced to purchase private health insurance coverage from the health insurance marketplace. Tens of thousands fell into an entirely unnecessary coverage gap.

The new data shows that the insurance industry was the biggest beneficiary of the decision to reject the funds for BadgerCare, and have donated massively to the campaigns of Governor Walker and Legislators who pushed the policy through.

According to data collected by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the insurance industry, including insurance agents, have contributed over $1.26 million to Governor Walker from the period between 2009 and 2013. This is over three times more than Governor Jim Doyle received from the industry from 2000-2012. The insurance industry also gave nearly $1 million to State Legislators. The industry contributed over four times as much to Republican members of the State Assembly as their Democratic counterparts, and 2.7 times as much to State Senate Republicans. Data for 2014 is not yet available but experts believe the insurance industry contributions will be substantial.

These campaign contributions are dwarfed by the large financial windfalls for insurance companies resulting from the rejection of enhanced federal BadgerCare dollars. Federal marketplace plans are much more expensive than BadgerCare, and put the insurance industry in a position to profit substantially. Tracking the federal tax credits individuals denied BadgerCare receive instead to purchase private coverage, the data compiled by Citizen Action of Wisconsin shows that Wisconsin insurance companies would receive up to $350 million per year extra in tax credits for individual health policies. This does not include the premiums paid by individual consumers or new small business premiums.

“Many across Wisconsin have been confounded by Scott Walker’s seemingly irrational decision to leave hundreds of millions of federal dollars on the table that could have strengthened BadgerCare,”said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “This data raised the disturbing specter that Walker and conservatives in the Legislature sold out their own constituents for campaign cash from the insurance industry. Leaving tens of thousands of Wisconsin families without health coverage in return for campaign donations is morally repugnant.”

“The question of federal funds for BadgerCare is a clear example of where the public wants one thing, and the insurance companies want another, and unfortunately the insurance companies succeeded in getting their way”, said Mike McCabe, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. “There is a disturbingly high presence of contributions directly to the officials that had the ability to get the industry what it wanted.”

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Is Drug Testing Applicants for Public Programs a Wise Idea?

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
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 14 October 2014
in Wisconsin

drug-testGovernor Walker wants to drug test applicants making SNAP (food stamps) and Unemployment Insurance claims. Findings about drug testing in other states including Florida and Tennessee show that drug testing costs far more to implement than was saved. And courts have ruled that drug testing recipients of public benefits without reason to believe the person abused drugs is unconstitutional.


MADISON - “If you require drug testing for unemployment insurance claims are you going to drug test farmers for crop insurance next?” the Colfax farmer asked the candidate.

In several recent legislative forums, local candidates advocated for a proposal to drug test people making Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and unemployment insurance claims.

Is this a good idea?

Unemployment insurance is a program that originated in Wisconsin in 1932. In general, unemployment benefits are financed by taxes paid by employers into the state’s unemployment reserve fund. Both federal and state law governs unemployment insurance.

Wisconsin receives $1.4 billion in unemployment insurance benefits from employer contributions and federal money according to the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) ‘single’ audit of federal funds paid in 2012-13.

SNAP is a federal program. Wisconsin received $1.2 billion in SNAP funds from Uncle Sam.

In general, people making up to 200% of the federal poverty level can apply for SNAP benefits. This would be a little over $22,000 annual income for an individual who would be eligible for a $200 benefit a month.

The state is responsible for assuring the SNAP program is properly administered. Wisconsin has been rewarded with bonus payments from the feds for improved administrative performance. A 2012 LAB audit led the state to make further oversight improvements including a card trafficking investigation unit and a computer-matching system to assure prisoners don’t receive benefits.

States have proposed drug-testing recipients of public benefits since federal welfare reform in 1996 according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

At least 11 states have some type of law requiring drug testing for certain applicants of public programs. But courts struck down some of these laws.

For example, in 2013 the District Court permanently stopped enforcement of Florida’s law. The court found the law violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibiting unreasonable searches.

According to the New York Times, the 2011 Florida law showed few results while it was enforced: only 2.6% of the 4,086 people tested positive for drugs (most often marijuana). The Times reported, “State records showed the requirement cost more money to carry out than it saved.” The Tampa Bay Times reported, in 2012, the program suffered a net loss of $45,780. That’s not counting thousands of hours of staff time to implement and litigation costs to defend the program.

The Florida decision was based on a 2003 Michigan Court of Appeals case. The Court said forcing every Michigan recipient of public benefits to be drug tested without reason to believe the person abused drugs was unconstitutional.

According to NCSL most states use some test of “reasonable suspicion” before requiring a drug test. Most laws apply the requirement to persons applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Wisconsin law requires TANF applicants to disclose felony convictions. Those with a felony conviction must take a drug test.

Are people who apply for public programs more likely to use drugs? The answer appears to be ‘No’. According to the Georgetown Law Journal, drug use in the general public is 8.7% compared to the less than 3% found in Florida’s testing of public benefit recipients. ThinkProgress, a current affairs website, reported Tennessee started drug testing in 2014 and found just one user after testing 800 people.

The farmer in Colfax raises an important question about drug testing. A person making an unemployment insurance claim is not too dissimilar from a farmer making a crop insurance claim. In both cases the program is financed with a mix of federal and private money paid into a reserve fund; in both cases the person is without income.

Public programs must be carefully monitored for fraud. Programs must be easy to administer and fraud investigation must be built into administration. With little evidence that those using drugs are disproportionately applying for SNAP and filing unemployment claims, it makes little sense to spend more money on drug testing.

Instead it seems this proposal is one more example of demonizing a certain group of people for political gain. Applying for aid is difficult enough. Asking someone who can’t afford to eat to pee in a cup just adds to the humiliation.

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United States Supreme Court Blocks Wisconsin's Voter ID Law for November

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Friday, 10 October 2014
in Wisconsin

supreme-court-2013WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Thursday night blocked Wisconsin from implementing the Walker Administration's voter identification law on the eve of next month's election.

In a related action, a district court judge in Texas ruled that state's voter ID law is racially discriminatory and violates the Voting Rights Act. The Texas attorney general's office said it would appeal.

Both Wisconsin and Texas had claimed the new rules were intended to crack down on instances in which voters impersonate others at the polls. Such incidents are extremely rare, courts have found.

The court gave no reason for its action, as is routine for such emergency orders. But Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, arguing that the court cannot block an appeals court ruling unless the lower court "clearly and demonstrably erred in its application of accepted standards."

The Wisconsin law requires voters to produce a photo ID at the polls based on a 2011 law that was rolled out in time for low-turnout primaries the following year. Because of early problems, a state court blocked further use of the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project, a civil rights group, contended that the law jeopardizes the votes of some 300,000 residents, mostly racial minorities, seniors, students and people with disabilities and that imposing the photo ID requirement on such short notice "will cause chaos at the polls".

Although the Supreme Court has wavered in the past, such as allowing discriminatory practices like the southern poll tax to stand during Jim Crow years, as a general trend it has supported of the right to vote as the fundamental constitutional right of each citizen that should not be superseded by administrative convenience.

State officials argued that they had been implementing the photo ID rule since early September. "Plaintiffs are asking this court to pinball state and local election officials between enforcing and not enforcing the law with November elections dgless than four weeks away," their brief said. "Voters would get the pinball treatment, too."

Thursday's ruling blocks, for now, the vision of large numbers of registered voters, mostly racial minorities and seniors, being turned away from polls. If that were to happen, the result of the election might have to be blocked or reversed by the courts.

The Walker Administration, through it's Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, has pledged to continue the fight to implement the law.

But, at least for now, it's off again.

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Sand Mines Place “Communities at Risk”

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
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 07 October 2014
in Wisconsin

frac_sandSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the findings of two recently released studies regarding frac sand mining.


EAU CLAIRE - “What new information do we have about the mines?” the Eau Claire reporter asked me.

The reporter was referring to two sand mine studies recently released; one by a committee under the charge of the Trempealeau County Board and the other by the Boston Action Research group of the Civil Society Institute.

Communities at Risk, the Boston study, details sand mining activities across the Midwest. Western Wisconsin is the epicenter of the explosion of mines. The study mentions familiar concerns about frac mining including water and air quality and financial issues and adds new details on data and possible legislative remedies.

A Final Report on the Public Health Impacts of Non-metallic Industrial Sand Mining in Trempealeau County is a comprehensive overview of possible health effects. The committee made 59 recommendations including minimizing light and noise pollution; keeping communities stable; and protecting air, ground and surface water.

Recommendations were developed with the support of data collected from residents. For example, almost 90% of residents wanted protection of water. The “most important” two strategies were Protecting Drinking Water and Protecting the Environment.

The Trempealeau report detailed problems with water affecting both residents and other industries. Residents reported changes to the taste of water following mine blasting; one neighbor had a well replaced by the mine because of damage; the Gold’n Plump chicken processing plant cleaned very fine sand from water and spent several thousand dollars on sand separators and specialized screens to minimize sand in the water. The company wonders whether they need to drill a new well.

Also newly reported, Communities at Risk included new details from Wisconsin DNR data showing “highly damaging water pollution” in the form of heavy metals in sand wash ponds adjacent to mines. Heavy metals entering surface water can be a problem with iron ore mining but, to my knowledge, was never previously identified with sand mining.

Both studies expressed concern about the effects of contaminated water and air on human health. The Trempealeau Committee recommended ongoing water monitoring for several years after the mine closes. Air monitoring should be conducted for dust particles at the mine and in residential sites near the mine.

Monitoring should begin on the smallest and most dangerous of dust particles – those smaller than 2.5 microns. The Boston study reported Wisconsin does not now require monitoring on these particles.

Because exposure to dust can cause disease many years later, the Boston study recommends local and state officials conduct baseline health studies now and continue for many years into the future.

And what about all those jobs created by the mine? Both reports discuss economic impacts of mines.

The Trempealeau report detailed job creation at two mines; one had 30 full-time employees and three part-time office workers, all lived within an hour of the mine. The other mine, still under construction, had 5 full-time operators who were all from outside the region. They expected to hire 25 employees once under full operation.

The Boston report examined a study on the costs and benefits of mining. The study expressed concern about the mines effect on other industries including tourism, writing “frac sand mining jobs would continue to be a miniscule fraction of all jobs in the counties with frac sand resources, suggesting that, in many cases, the risks far outweigh any benefits”.

What can the state do to assist communities grappling with the impacts of mining? Wisconsin needs more inspectors to monitor compliance with existing laws. The two positions approved in the last budget are not nearly adequate.

Trempealeau County is right to monitor small and large particles. Let’s use the state’s resources to assist local counties. We don’t have to look far to find out how this can be accomplished.

The Minnesota Legislature directed it’s DNR to create a guidance document for local government stating what and how to regulate the mines and how to protect water quality and public health; new air standards for silica dust are in the works. And Minnesota funds a “Bluffland Landscape Coordinator” who assists local government in drafting ordinances to protect the blufflands.

These are good ideas to help struggling communities at risk.

###

Below you will find links to those studies.  Kathleen includes recommendations for legislative action to assist communities and counties affected by sand mines.   http://www.thewheelerreport.com/wheeler_docs/files/0925csi.pdf http://www.tremplocounty.com/landmanagement/nmm/documents/PublicHealthImpactsofNMISMinTrempealeauCounty.pdf

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BadgerCare Coverage Gap Worst in Rural Counties

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.,
User is currently offline
on Friday, 03 October 2014
in Wisconsin

healthcare-familyNewly released county-level data shows number of residents by County forced off BadgerCare and left in “coverage gap.”


STATEWIDE - New Wisconsin Department of Health Services county-level data obtained from an open records request by Citizen Action of Wisconsin quantifies the BadgerCare coverage gap at the local level.  The data shows the statewide impact of the coverage gap caused by Governor Walker’s misguided decision to reject federal dollars to strengthen BadgerCare. Contrary to the widespread assumption this is primarily an urban problem, the data shows that the relative impact is greater in rural areas than in cities (see charts below).

Governor Walker’s decision to turn down billions in federal funds for BadgerCare forced 62,776 parents off the program in April, leaving 26,600 in a coverage gap unable to affordable private coverage. The Federal government, at the request of US Senator Tammy Baldwin, recently intervened by creating a special enrollment period in the health care marketplace for uninsured Wisconsinites forced off BadgerCare. While this will help some parents who missed the first open enrollment period, health advocates believe that many in the gap simply cannot afford the premiums, copays, and deductibles associated with private insurance.

On November 4, over 1 million Wisconsin voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue when they vote on BadgerCare advisory referendums in 19 counties and 1 city.

Counties with the highest percent of individuals forced off BadgerCare still uninsured

Florence *

55.17%

Pierce

52.29%

Polk

51.84%

Forest

50.97%

St Croix *

50.37%

Green Lake

49.57%

Adams

49.06%

Oconto

48.59%

Sawyer

48.49%

Waushara

48.17%

* - Has BadgerCare referendum on November 4th ballot

Counties with most residents kicked off BadgerCare, as percent of population

Ashland

2.63%

Price

2.32%

Washburn

2.31%

Rusk

2.21%

Sawyer

1.99%

Barron

1.93%

Bayfield *

1.89%

Langlade

1.85%

Iron *

1.84%

Taylor

1.84%

* - Has BadgerCare referendum on November 4th ballot

Comparison of Major Metros



COUNTIES

Total residents kicked off of BadgerCare

Residents Stuck in "Coverage Gap"

Percent left  Uninsured

Brown

2,635

1,253

47.55%

Dane

3,150

1,054

33.46%

Douglas

565

272

48.14%

Eau Claire

1,354

523

38.63%

Kenosha*

1,720

772

44.88%

La Crosse

1,245

492

39.52%

Manitowoc

908

374

41.19%

Marathon

1,790

743

41.51%

Milwaukee

10,239

4,556

44.50%

Oneida

622

227

36.50%

Outagamie

1,840

843

45.82%

Portage

796

307

38.57%

Racine

1,969

896

45.51%

Rock

1,882

795

42.24%

Sheboygan

1,059

459

43.34%

Waukesha

2,431

1,016

41.79%

Winnebago

1,812

839

46.30%

Wood

1,253

483

38.55%

STATEWIDE

62,776

26,641

42.40%

13 of 20 Counties with BadgerCare referendum marked above in bold/underlined

* - City of Kenosha has referendum

 

Full data for all 72 Wisconsin counties can be found here.

“Governor Walker’s political decision to force 62,000 Wisconsinites off BadgerCare is inflicting needless damage to families and communities all across the state, especially in rural areas,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Walker and his allies in the Legislature need to stop playing politics with the health and economic security of hard pressed families in every Wisconsin county who are working to get ahead and live the American Dream.”

Web link to Press Release here

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