Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, along with various area residents held a rally in May 5 in Spring Green to show support for BadgerCare expansion in the state 2021-2023 biennial budget, a single day before State Sen. Howard Marklein and the Committee on Joint Finance took its first votes to bring the budget “back to basics,” removing those expansions.
Roughly 25-30 people met at North Park in Spring Green with signs and a plan to speak on why BadgerCare expansion is importance to them and the state. Speakers included organizer, Ben Wilson, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Driftless co-op organizer, Marie Raboin, owner of Brix Cider in Mount Horeb, Dr. Mark Neumann, a retired physician turned healthcare activist, Area residents Joni Anderson and Timm Zumm, who shared his story about currently going without healthcare.
“Most people around here know me as the President of the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway, the volunteer group that works to protect the beautiful lower Wisconsin river. One of our challenges is finding people who can volunteer, who can afford to work for nothing,” said Zumm. “The Affordable Care Act helped me out alot, but if you make $8 an hour, working 40 hours a week, you don’t qualify for BadgerCare. You can’t live on $8 an hour. There’s just no good reason not to have it.”
Attendees were invited to speak as well.
Expansions the group advocated for included the possibility for $1.6 billion in new federal funding for the state and expanding eligibility for BadgerCare healthcare coverage for 90,000 Wisconsinites.
Following speeches, rally organizers and attendees planted 100 mini American Flags along the sidewalk at North Park, each flag representing 900 state residents that would be eligible under the proposed expansion.
Ben Wilson, organizer for the event said the group chose to hold the rally in Spring Green because it is part of the 17th senate district, and Sen. Howard Marklein’s hometown. Marklein is co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee.
Wilson stated that Marklein was not formally invited to attend the rally, but claims he was aware of the event.
On May 6, the day of the JFC’s votes, Marklein released an official statement regarding the budget process and the committee’s votes on Gov. Tony Evers’ Badger Bounceback proposals.
“Today, the Joint Committee on Finance took the first votes in the budget process. We returned to base budget which means that
our next budget will begin with the current budget. This is the spending plan that Governor Evers signed and supported two years ago,” said Marklein. “From here, we will build the next state budget by adding to the current budget. We will focus on reasonable, responsible and realistic priorities to support all Wisconsinites. Our approach takes us back to basics as we build the next state budget.”
Valley Sentinel requested comment on the rally from Marklein’s office, but did not hear back by press time. If we hear back from Marklein this story will be updated online.
Evers also released an official statement following urging Wisconsinites to call their legislators to voice their desires and needs for the budget.
Following the JFC’s vote on Thursday, Valley Sentinel reached out to Wilson for comment on the committee votes, and what this means for BadgerCare expansion and Wisconsinites in need of healthcare. Below are his responses.
Valley Sentinel: Do you have any comment on the actions/votes taken by the JFC so far?
Ben Wilson: The JFC’s actions are not designed to benefit the people of Wisconsin. Their decision was intended to prevent Governor Evers from having any form of success. Many of the proposals the JFC threw out (like cannabis reform and the expansion of BadgerCare) are widely popular across Wisconsin. They have polled very well among both Republican and Democratic voters. The JFC has turned the state budget into a political game and Republicans in control of the JCF are willing to allow the state of Wisconsin to suffer rather then help our Governor to protect the health and financial security of Wisconsin.
The decision to remove BadgeCare expansion specifically means that over 90,000 uninsured Wisconsinites will continue to go without healthcare. These are Wisconsinites who are working full or part time. These are our friends and neighbors who are struggling. These are people who are one unexpected expense away from financial ruin. BadgeCare expansion would have been funded by the federal Government so not only is the GOP controlled JFC leaving Wisconsinites without healthcare they are also leaving federal funds from the American Rescue Plan unclaimed.
VS: Why was/wasn’t this the best route to take?
BW: Rather than engage in debate and compromise the JFC has taken action to strip every proposal from the Governor’s budget. The Republicans in control of the JFC are showing that they have no interest in bipartisan cooperation. They threw out budget items related to everything from expanding BadgerCare, environmental protections, efforts to keep our waterways clean, investments in our schools, investments in child care and caregivers, expanding broadband in our rural areas and so many other programs.
In 2018 the people of Wisconsin elected Tony Evers as Governor. Ever since that night the Wisconsin GOP has prioritized fighting Governor Evers rather than work to protect the health, well being and future of Wisconsin. Last year, in the middle of the biggest pandemic of our lives, the Wisconsin GOP fought every efforts Governor Evers made to fight the COVID virus and protect Wisconsin. The actions of the JCF last week are horrible but it fits within the pattern. Toxic partisan fighting is not a way to effectively lead Wisconsin yet that is the path the GOP has chosen. This decision by the JFC will not help anyone in Wisconsin.
VS: What does it mean for residents of Wisconsin affected by the decisions?
BW: Everyone in Wisconsin will be affected by this decision. Our water will continue to be threatened by PFAS, nitrates, and lead pipes. Our caregivers across the state will continue to go underfunded even while those caregivers are taking care of our loved ones. Wisconsin will continue to lack access affordable child care our working families need in order to work and thrive. Our public schools will still go underfunded. Cannabis will continue to be illegal in the state of Wisconsin while our neighboring states of Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota will generate millions of dollars (and thousands of new jobs) through the legalization of cannabis. Our small and medium sized family owned farms will continue to suffer and be forced out of business. Wisconsin will be less prepared to deal with the increasing number of extreme whether events like flooding. Our small, rural communities will continue too suffer and lose their populations. Wisconsin will miss out on billions of dollars in federal aid funding from the American Rescue Plan.
Worst of all over 90,000 hard working Wisconsinites will continue to go without healthcare. Currently someone in Wisconsin who works full time at $8.00 an hour makes too much to qualify for BadgerCare but clearly they do not make enough to be able to afford a healthcare plan on that kind of salary. Expanding BadgerCare would provide healthcare to those 90,000 Wisconsinites funded by the federal government. Wisconsin is leaving money on the table and hard working Wisconsinites are suffering because of it. Wisconsin is now one of only 12 states to refuse federal dollars to expand their medicaid programs. Even deep red states like Montana and Missouri has expanded their Medicaid programs. Healthcare is not a luxury item, it is a basic human right and the Wisconsin GOP is forcing hard working Wisconsinites to go without it. These are the people who bag our groceries and the people preparing our order at the drive through. These are the people we were calling heroes last year and now we are denying them healthcare, even though it would not cost Wisconsin anything to expand BadgerCare to cover them. It is impossible to get ahead in life if your basic needs are not met. Healthcare is a basic need and the Republican leaders of the Joint Finance Committee are withholding that basic need from 90,000 of the people they represent.
It is past time for the Wisconsin Republicans to come up with solutions rather than fight against progress. It is time for them to come to the table and engage in good faith negotiations rather than being an obstructionist party. Wisconsin will suffer and left behind our neighboring states because of last week’s decision by the leaders of JFC!