More than 60 people turned out at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha Friday morning, March 22, for an advocacy forum on the proposed 2019-’21 Wisconsin state budget and its effects on elders, people with disabilities, those with mental illness and caregivers.
The main message of the day: Get involved.
LaVerne Jaros, director of the Kenosha County Division of Aging and Disability Services, called on the advocates who attended Friday’s hearing to speak out on behalf of the issues important to them.
“We know how important the state budget is,” Jaros said, “particularly for the people we serve, the people we parent, and the people we advocate for.”
Barbara Beckert and Sally Flaschberger of Disability Rights Wisconsin presented an overview of Gov. Tony Evers proposed budget, and how people – regardless of political persuasion – can most effectively advocate for the provisions that most affect them, their agencies and their families.
Disability Rights Wisconsin is a private, nonprofit organization that works to protect the rights of people with disabilities statewide. Flaschberger, lead advocacy specialist for the group, said disability issues are truly nonpartisan in nature.
“It’s really not about Republican or Democrat,” Flaschberger said. “These issues really go across the aisle.”
Among the Evers budget provisions that Disability Rights Wisconsin is highlighting are:
- The acceptance of additional Medicaid dollars available through the Affordable Care Act, which Wisconsin has previously declined. This would allow people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level – $17,236 this year – to access health coverage through BadgerCare. Beckert, Disability Rights Wisconsin’s director of external advocacy, said this would benefit low-income people with disabilities, family caregivers and low-income workers providing care services for people with disabilities. Accepting these federal funds would free up $320 million in state funding for other initiatives, she said.
- Strengthened health care coverage protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
- A significant increase in the reimbursement to local school districts for special education, from 24 percent to 60 percent.
- Increased Medicaid rates for physicians and medical clinics providing mental health, behavioral health and psychiatric services, plus some state funding for Medicaid crisis intervention services now paid for by counties.
- An enhanced Medicaid dental care package.
- An increase in long-term care and home care provider rates, targeted for bonuses or wage increases for direct-care workers.
- Increased payments to hospitals that provide a disproportionate amount of services to Medicaid recipients.
- A 10 percent increase in general transit aids.
- Expansion of programs to relieve homelessness, including $3.75 million to fund recommendations from the Interagency Council on Homelessness.
The governor’s budget, presented to the Legislature on Feb. 28, is now in the hands of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.
Flaschberger urged people to contact their legislators and help them make informed decisions on disability issues.
“We know that our legislators don’t know about every issue, so you may be the person to give them the education on that issue” important to you, Flaschberger said.