Citizens of Merrill:
In light of the financial condition our state is in, when the budget is finally balanced, a much greater financial burden will be placed on our cities to provide for their own needs.
The cost of the city administrator to the taxpayers of the city of Merrill could be one million dollars in just 8 years and two and a half million in 20 years.
I’m sure the city government could better apply this money for the future needs of our people, by using it to reduce the inevitable coming increase in our property taxes. Call City Hall today.
After listening to and watching the shenanigans taking place in Madison these past few weeks, it is clear to me that if special interest groups don’t control our government they at the very least hold dominion over the Republican and Democratic parties. What for over 200 years has been a government of the people has become a government of special interests, and the consent of the people has been regulated to an empty campaign slogan bantered about every two or four years during elections in which only about half our eligible voters go to the polls.
When we should be investing in improving schools, rebuilding our manufacturing base, and restoring our infrastructure our politicians find it necessary to squander hundreds of billions of dollars and accumulate enormous debt. While corporate America is enjoying lower taxes than ever, and tax breaks for the wealthy are expanded, working men and women are forced to shoulder more of the tax burden while working harder than ever just to keep their jobs at reduced pay with fewer benefits and in the process are deprived of economic opportunity, fair wages and a political voice.
Politicians have ignored any issues of real importance – education, public safety, the environment, economic security, and raising the standard of living. Instead, influenced by special interest money, promote agendas above the public interest, support the defeat of laws that are counter to the public good and support those laws that weaken the foundation of our prosperity, free-enterprise democracy.
This country is nearing a financial disaster. The fault lies on BOTH sides of the aisle at the Federal & State levels, there is no doubt about that. I hope most readers realize how serious the problem really is.
Our National Debt is nearing $14.5 TRILLION. We have not seen a completed budget since the Obama Administration took office two years ago! Currently congress is trying to work out a way to keep us from going broke before the end of the current fiscal year.
The Dems are wanting to increase the debt ceiling as a resolution. They want to keep spending money we don’t have. The Repubs are trying to cut so we don’t have to print more worthless money to cover our INSF checks. The newly elected “Tea Partiers” are saying hey this spending is going to kill this great country as we know it unless we do something DRASTIC!
To support this, Reuter’s reported this week that China is getting very nervous about the strength of the dollar. It is used to set the basis for WORLD CURRENCIES. They are concerned at the careless printing of dollars by the Federal Reserve. They own close to 20% of our debt now. This flood of new dollars is greatly reducing the value of their holdings. One of these days the Chinese will call in their loans. When that happens we will be standing on the outside looking in.
It is high time we get serious. This “play ground” stuff being used by politicians in D.C. & Madison is not going to get us where we need to go.
Folks, it’s time for all of us to insist that “We not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” -John F. Kennedy.
The time to act is now! Make sure you let your elected officials at federal and state levels know it’s time to wake up and do something to curb spending. Thanks for your time and attention.
All Lincoln County Residents,
We are writing with regard to Governor Walker’s 2011-2013 Biennium Budget Bill. This bill includes the Governor’s plan to privatize and centralize the eligibility determination system for income maintenance programs. These programs include FoodShare (Food Stamps), Medicaid, BadgerCare, and Caretaker Supplement. It is this part of the bill that is of specific concern to us and we are hopeful that after reading this letter you will share our concerns.
The most obvious concern is the loss of local employment. The Governor’s Budget Recommendations for The Department of Health Services includes transferring administration of income maintenance programs to improve the accuracy and timeliness of eligibility determinations, while reducing total income maintenance costs by $48 million per year and decreasing the number of overall staff in the program by an estimated 270 full time positions. It is unclear at this time what positions would be eliminated but the plan appears to call for the elimination of approximately 1,700 Economic Support Specialists employed by counties and tribes, transferring state workers between agencies, and contracting with a private firm who will hire about 1300 employees. Governor Walker’s office has not released specific information on how the reorganization would work, but Lincoln County currently receives approximately $440,000 for the administration of these programs. These administration dollars fund the majority of salary and fringe cost for approximately 7 county positions, a portion of several other positions in the county, and a fair percentage of the operating costs of the Human Services Department.
The loss of local jobs is troubling, but our main concern is that Lincoln County residents will pay a higher price for these services, in dollars and in the reduction of needed benefits. In 2009 over $3 million in FoodShare, and $31 million in BadgerCare/Medicaid benefits were received by Lincoln County residents. It is reasonable to assume that a large portion of these benefits were spent in Lincoln County and therefore were cycled through the community several times over. How many private employee positions will be in jeopardy if these funds are significantly reduced or even delayed by centralizing the eligibility process? This hidden cost is not included in any budget figures but will have a major effect on our small communities and our residents.
The push for centralization actually began under the Doyle administration, if not before, but the plan was for regional offices operated by county staff. The move to privatize the entire system is new. Privatization should raise a red flag; you are forced to pay whatever price set by the vendor or you don’t get the standard of service you desire. This has been proven by the current private vendor administering a small, and relatively simpler, portion of the economic support programs in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is currently contracting with Hewlett Packard to determine eligibility for BadgerCare Core Plan, Family Planning Only Services, and FoodShare for Childless Adults through the Enrollment Services Center (ESC). You should be aware that the ESC exceeded Act 28 funding levels by $3.2 million in 2009-2010 and is currently projected to exceed budget levels by an additional $12.5 million in 2010-2011. Not only were they unable to provide the service for the amount budgeted but during this time the error rate was more than 3.2 percent compared to the average county error rate of 1.3 percent. The State of Wisconsin is under a corrective action plan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of the exceedingly long wait times for servicing FoodShare applications at the ESC. Take this private vendor centralization statewide for all Economic Support programs and the problems will go to an even larger scale, including families with small children, elderly, and disabled, and to what end?
Since the establishment of the ESC we have received daily phone calls from Lincoln County residents complaining about their experiences with the ESC and requesting our assistance. There have been numerous complaints about long wait times on hold, often over 1 hour, lack of timely processing of applications, lack of knowledgeable staff, and improper denial of needed benefits.
From our experience the ESC lacks the ability to implement these programs with any degree of accuracy. In fact, county workers continue to “bail out” the ESC by correcting their mistakes, bringing errors to their attention (and sometimes explaining to them how to correct them), and have been paid overtime by the state to help them process a back log of cases that they could not process timely. Who is going to “bail them out” if the local agencies are no longer staffed?
These problems may seem to be a small price to pay for the centralization of services, however those delays and errors are significantly magnified when the person who needs assistance is your elderly parent, a relative, or a close friend. Given the number of Lincoln County residents receiving some form of services through the local Economic Support Unit, we can assure you that you will personally know someone who will be adversely affected by the centralization of these services. Not having a local agency with local workers who are familiar with their clients will be detrimental to many. We offer a level of service that the ESC cannot match, such as face to face appointments where we can explain program options and answer questions. An application for Elderly, Blind, and Disabled Medicaid can be very confusing for anyone let alone for someone who needs Institutional or Nursing Home Medicaid for themselves, their spouse, or even their parent. Having someone at the local office that you can contact reasonably quickly is invaluable. We also have concerns for the growing number of the very poor and homeless in the area. Completing an application by phone or internet will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for those who have limited minutes on their prepaid phones, no access to the internet, or are computer illiterate. Currently when ESC clients fall into one of these categories we are able to guide and assist them, often completing the eligibility application for them even though it is not our responsibility. We do this because we care about the people in our community.
Mildred Warner, a professor at the Cornell University of New York, has researched the issue of privatization of public services for 15 years and has determined it does not save money. Not only do public employees make less than private employees when education and experience are taken into consideration, she says, but private companies will sacrifice quality for profit unless closely monitored. And that is a cost that is often overlooked.
We also believe there will be another hidden cost due to the increase in fraudulent benefits being issued if eligibility is centralized. We are often able to avoid issuing fraudulent benefits because we are a relatively small community and often know the person, family, or employer of the client. We often receive information from other community members informing us of potential fraud situations. Will these community members be willing to sit on hold for an hour to give this information to someone in Madison, wait days to receive a return call, or even know where to find the phone number to call? And if community members do report the information, will ESC make it a priority to investigate it and process a recoupment of overpayments?
We have often heard people say that too many people are receiving benefits they don’t deserve or that there should be more requirements to receive benefits. Suggestions usually include drug tests and a work requirement. You may be surprised to find out that the Federal rules for receiving FoodShare do require adults to participate in employment training and job search to receive FoodShare, however the State of Wisconsin has asked for and received permission from the Federal Government to waive this requirement, presumably in an effort to make it easier to centralize and privatize the application process. How does this help the recipients of these benefits become self sufficient?
No one likes to pay for these programs, and the majority of people do not like to receive these benefits. But the truth is that a majority of people will be dependent on these programs for at least a short period of time at some point in their lives, whether it is for themselves, a disabled child, an elderly parent, or their friend or neighbor.
Therefore, we implore you to contact your Senator and Representative in Madison and ask them to vote no on this portion of the Budget Bill. We, as Economic Support workers, are in a unique position to know the serious effects this provision of the Budget Bill will have on numerous Lincoln County residents and businesses if it is signed into law.