Governor Evers’ leadership in our year of COVID-related hardships has been quite ineffectual, while our Legislature, the people’s voice in Madison has been ignored.
Evers ignored the Legislature with his recently proposed biennial budget. His budget is a leftist wish list he knows the Legislature will not approve. It would increase government spending by $3.8 billion and raise taxes by $1 billion. That’s the last thing we need for our economic recovery.
Our Legislature has been excluded from COVID-19 related management from the time of the Governor’s first Emergency Order, which closed all but “essential businesses” and ordered Wisconsinites to stay home.
Without involving the Legislature, Evers unilaterally extend that first order. By law, extensions must have legislative approval. After the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared the extension invalid, the governor circumvented the Legislature, letting his emergency orders expire, then rapidly ordering “new” ones.
Evers’ autocratic control of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 response floundered. His Department of Workforce Development (DWD) let tens of thousands of Wisconsinites wait weeks to months to receive their unemployment benefits, many are still waiting.
As in other states there was a sudden increase in claims, but unlike in other states, the Wisconsin DWD was not able to adjust. Funds from the federal CARES Act sat undistributed.
Only 25% of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims made in Wisconsin from April through July, had an initial payment, compared to 86% in Minnesota. An audit showed only 1% of calls to the DWD were answered. DWD ‘s backlog of claims surpassed 700,000 over the course of the pandemic.
Evers showed a lack of urgency in dealing with this. The state received $2 billion in CARES federal relief funds in April, but none was used to improve the DWD response. Republicans urged Evers to increase DWD staffing and hours. Employees from other departments could have been transferred to DWD, and CARES act funds used to hire more adjudicators.
Evers, however, was not taking an active role in this. His schedule shows only two meetings with his DWD secretary before asking him to resign in October.
In December the new secretary announced the backlog on claims older than 21 days had been “cleared”. Unfortunately, this only meant the claims had been assigned to a claim specialist, not actually resolved or initial payment made. That can take weeks to months depending on how complicated the claim is. Appeals on denied claims are also tremendously backlogged.
Evers has blamed the computer programming language for the debacle, though 11 other states are able to make use of it. He did nothing to modernize it in his first biennial budget two years ago or early in the COVID-19 crisis.
IT problems also occurred in COVID-19 data accumulation. Recently the Wisconsin Department of Health Services corrected enough data to reduce the confirmed case rate over several weeks by 2,200.
Also corrected was the residence of the deceased. Of 6562 total deaths, 971 more than previously recorded resided in nursing and group homes. We now know that 45% of Wisconsin deaths with confirmed COVID-19 resided in these settings.
Residents of assisted living facilities have a high COVID-19 death rate. In October the CDC reported 21% of that population died when so infected, compared to just 3% of the general population.
Nonetheless, Wisconsin was one of the last states to begin vaccinating this group and according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as of March 9 was last in fully vaccinating this population. Prior to this vulnerable group, vaccine recipients, regardless of age or underlying medical conditions, included employees of gas stations selling groceries, and all staff of educational facilities and prisons.
Evers’ COVID-19 vaccine rollout was generally erratic. In January the CDC ranked Wisconsin fifth worst in state vaccine administration. Although the Governor recently tweeted Wisconsin is number one in the upper Midwest, actually North Dakota, South Dakota and Minneapolis have a greater percent of their populations fully vaccinated. It is only as of March 22 that those with high-risk medical conditions can begin the vaccine process.
Evers did not involve the Legislature in these decisions. Attempting to secure some role they passed Assembly Bill 1 in February, it was immediately vetoed by Evers.
The bill would have protected key liberties of businesses and citizens, including our right to attend in person religious services. It also authorized a measure to meet requirements for federal COVID-19 unemployment assistance, thus costing Wisconsinites $1.3 million per week.
It appears the governor still wants to go it alone, which is too bad for the rest of us.
Pamela Wolfe M.D., of the Town of Geneva, is a member of the Republican Party of Walworth County.