We Can Fund What We Need to Fund

For thousands of years, people have recognized the responsibility of a compassionate society to care for, support, encourage, and provide a quality life for all people, including the most vulnerable among us.  To this end we establish governments, elect leaders and pay taxes.

How those taxes are collected and how those tax monies are utilized, however, becomes the subject of often heated debate. Budget time in Wisconsin, for example.

There are two lenses through which we can view our financial situation as a state: scarcity or abundance. How we view things has ramifications for how we live together. Believing there is not enough leads to anxiety, a closing in on oneself, a tendency to hoard. Those who have little are pitted against those who have less. Resentment, frustration, anger, and fear are fostered.

On the other hand, viewing our financial opportunities from a perspective of abundance opens us up. Feeling financially secure fosters cooperation and generosity. Equitably sharing the responsibility for the support and improvement of our society as a whole creates opportunities.

As we consider the state budget, it is easy to believe there is not enough.

The alternative budget we propose today discredits that myth. Rather than looking at our state resources from a perspective of scarcity, we look from a perspective of abundance. We have enough. We can fund what we need to fund to assure the strength of our communities and our state. By cleaning up the tax codes and eliminating tax loopholes that benefit the few at the expense of the vast majority, we can invest in Wisconsin and our commitment to supporting families and building thriving communities.

We can adopt A Wisconsin Budget for All.

Mary Stumme Froiland, Bishop
South Central Synod of Wisconsin, ELCA

Bishop Foiland’s remarks were given at a press conference in the Capitol in Madison, January 18, 2017, where “A Wisconsin Budget for All” was unveiled. “A Wisconsin Budget for All,” is a proposal that provides lawmakers with the framework to redirect $900 million of wasteful tax breaks into investments in the things that Wisconsin communities need to thrive: better schools, better health care, and an economy that works for everyone. Read the full proposal here.

Is the State of Our State Strong?

In a blog post we released just prior to the Governor’s State of the State address, we asked whether his proposals would prioritize investments in children and opportunity for all. To be fair, the State of the State speech is not usually the vehicle for detailed policy proposals, those details will be contained in the budget the Governor introduces in a few weeks. So as we look forward towards that, I am remembering a quote I heard a while back which goes: “Don’t tell me what you believe. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you believe.”

In his speech the Governor said: “It is a moral imperative that every child has access to a great education.” I wholeheartedly agree. So if that is the belief, what is the budget? An analysis by the Wisconsin Budget Project shows that Wisconsin public schools spent 5.4% less per student than a decade ago, while the national spending increased 4.2% over the same period. The University of Wisconsin system received a $250 million cut in the last budget. Perhaps that trend will begin to be turned around in the next budget, but whatever additional investments we may see in that budget must be considered in light of the significant cuts in the past. And that standard must be applied in other areas as well.

The main theme of the speech was that the state of the state is strong. The question this raises for me is, “For who?” There is no doubt that there are many in our state who are doing very well, but many are being left behind. Income is increasing at the top, while it is stagnant for the rest of us. At the same time, the well-connected and the wealthy pay a smaller portion of their incomes in taxes than the rest of us. We also have broad and deep racial disparities in our state, an issue that is essentially ignored by most of our state level leadership and was not mentioned in the speech.

We have some big challenges in our state. One of the tests of the budget is whether the solutions proposed are of sufficient scale to make a real impact on those challenges. If we claim to really care about a million dollar problem, and then only invest a hundred dollars, that tells me that we don’t really care that much. Moral imperatives are great, but budgets are moral documents. I believe what we invest in is the best indication of our morals and our values.

Ken Taylor

Electing Candidates for Kids this November

With just twelve days left until Election Day, we have a lot of choices to make about the future of our state, and the future of our country. We’ve listened to candidates for local and national office talk about what makes them the best person for the job, and what they will do for us, the voters. But when candidates talk about moving our state forward or making our national economy more innovative for the future, they often forget about our most vital indicator for what the future will look like—our kids. Continue reading

Indigenous Peoples Day

According to Think Progress, a movement to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October is spreading throughout the country. Since the adoption of the first Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992 by the city of Berkeley, California, many other communities, cities, states and other types of municipalities are following suit.

Just last week, the City of Madison announced a proclamation declaring today to be Indigenous Peoples Day. Only a year ago a similar proclamation was adopted by Dane County. The movement has also reached the university as the University of Wisconsin’s Associated Students of Madison recently passed legislation to recognize the second Monday of each October as Indigenous People Day throughout campus. Continue reading

We Must All Work to Achieve Equity – We Are All In This Together

A week has passed since the death of Sylville Smith in Sherman Park. I am in no position to comment on the details of the events that led to his killing, or its aftermath. But I do think it is imperative that we see these tragic events within a larger context, a context that extends beyond the north side of Milwaukee, to the state of Wisconsin as a whole.

A week prior to Mr. Smith’s death, Wisconsin was again cited as the Worst State for Black Americans. This time it was in a study released by 24/7 Wall St., an on-line financial news and opinion company (which was also picked up in the Milwaukee Business Journal). This study took into account ten measures, including median income, unemployment, college graduation rates, and home ownership. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Wisconsin has been cited as the worst place for black Americans. WCCF’s own Race for Results report in 2014 highlighted that Wisconsin’s black children face long odds in achieving success, as they rank the worst in the nation on a combination of measures of child well-being. And there are other studies showing Wisconsin is the worst, including in the imprisonment of African American men and African American male unemployment.

It is within this larger context that we must consider our collective response to the events in Sherman Park. There is no doubt a great deal of work to be done within Milwaukee, and those of us outside of Milwaukee should take our lead from community members and local leaders. And it is also my view that in light of the larger context described above, Milwaukee cannot address all of its challenges on its own. We must work togetherBlack, Latino, Asian, American Indian, and Whitewithin Milwaukee and across the state. Our fates are intertwined and we all have a role to play.

There is never an ok time to be silent about the disparities that exist and how they impact us all, whether we like to think about it or not. And while there has been plenty of media coverage of this most recent tragedy, there has been very little said by our key policy-makers about what our state should do to address the underlying dynamic that leads to our repeated “worst-in-the-nation” status. That has to change.

Someone much more eloquent than I describes equity this way: Just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all. That is our great challenge, and that is our great reward. The future of our state depends on it.

Ken Taylor, Executive Director

Insuring Already-eligible Kids Is Critical for Improving the Health of WI Children

Wisconsin is no longer the leader it once was in getting children insured. A new WCCF report examines how Wisconsin lost its national prominence in insuring children and how our state could regain its leadership in that important area.

Census Bureau figures show that Wisconsin went from having the 6th highest rate of insurance coverage for kids in 2008 to the 16th best in 2014. Our analysis of the 2014 data found that there would have been about 11,800 fewer uninsured children in Wisconsin if our state achieved the average coverage rate for kids in the four neighboring states (3.5 percent).

A recent study by the Urban Institute regarding participation of eligible children in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) helps explain why other states have been climbing ahead of Wisconsin in the insurance rate for children. Wisconsin used to be far ahead of most states in the percentage of children who are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP and are actually participating; however, that’s no longer the case. The Urban Institute analysis found that in 2014 Wisconsin dropped slightly below the national average in the percentage of eligible kids who are participating in Medicaid or CHIP.

2_Child HealthOther states have surpassed us on that measure because they are taking advantage of provisions in the Affordable Care Act that enable them to sign up and maintain coverage for a higher percentage of the children who meet Medicaid or CHIP eligibility standards. A key part of that is expanding Medicaid eligibility of parents.

Almost 20 years ago, when Governor Thompson and the legislature created BadgerCare, Wisconsin demonstrated that covering parents improves the participation rate of their children. However, in 2014 when many other states were expanding Medicaid eligibility of parents, Wisconsin cut it in half. It appears that many of the children of parents who were terminated from BadgerCare have lost their coverage as well (even though they are still eligible), and some of those children almost certainly became uninsured.

Another reason that other states have been climbing ahead of Wisconsin is that they have done a much better job of utilizing federal options for streamlining Medicaid and CHIP enrollment processes and annual renewals of coverage. For example, they use income data already available in the state’s computer system in order to expedite enrollment and renewals, and to avoid inefficient and unnecessary churning of families into and out of Medicaid coverage.

Health insurance for children is an extremely cost-effective investment because it is relatively inexpensive, and providing kids with access to quality preventative care can significantly reduce more expensive interventions like hospitalization for asthma. Giving children access to preventative care also removes a barrier to learning, and it enables kids to grow up to be productive adults.

In related news, the Department of Health Services announced early this month that state spending for Medicaid is now expected to be almost $176 million (3.1%) less than the 2015-17 budget bill set aside. As I explained last week in a Wisconsin Budget Project blog post, the primary reason for the underspending is that the May BadgerCare enrollment was about 27,600 people (3.3%) below the average that the budget bill assumed for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

In light of the substantially lower estimates of Medicaid enrollment and spending, it’s time for state policymakers, health care providers and advocates to rededicate themselves to making Wisconsin once again a national leader in ensuring that children have access to quality, affordable health insurance.

There is no reason that we should trail all of our neighbor states because there are easy ways to increase the number of BadgerCare eligible children who sign up and stay enrolled. A great place to start would be to tap the tools that many other states are using to make enrollment and renewal processes more efficient and less burdensome for families.

The High Cost of Parental Incarceration on Children

Not only is the cost of incarcerating individuals in Wisconsin high (about $1.5 billion annually), but according to a new KIDS COUNT® policy report released today, approximately 88,000 children living in Wisconsin have experienced the separation of a parent who served time in jail or prison, of more than 5 million nationally. The impacts of incarceration, the report says, can have as much impact on children’s well-being as abuse or domestic violence. These generational costs are rarely calculated as policy-makers make decisions about crime and punishment.

Casey Incarceration Report_Wisconsin_Total Number

The Casey Foundation report calls on policy makers to address both the societal and fiscal implications of mass incarceration by providing children who are suffering the consequences of their parents’ incarceration with the stability and support they need. Specific policy recommendations include:

  • Expanding strategies to reduce the flow of individuals into incarceration through strategies that focus on treatment, provide developmentally appropriate interventions and services (e.g. return 17 year olds to the juvenile system), and reduce the number of individuals returned to prison or jail for behaviors that are not new law violations;
  • Increasing the odds that individuals returning from jail or prison are able to find and maintain family-supporting employment; and
  • Focusing on strengthening communities or neighborhoods that are disproportionately affected by incarceration.

 

The full report is available at www.aecf.org/sharedsentence.

.