County-level officials in Wisconsin say drop in revenue leaves funds dwindling to handle COVID-related needs.
In the best of times, Adams County officials face challenges meeting the needs of the people who call the rural area south of Stevens Point and north of Madison home.
Household income in the county is among the state’s lowest, at just above $43,000 annually. The county has among Wisconsin’s highest poverty rates, with the majority of students attending the Adams-Friendship school district qualifying for free or reduced meals. Grocery stores are few, and many residents experience poor health outcomes, in part because of a lack of access to health care providers.
Since the coronavirus pandemic struck Wisconsin in March, Adams County residents face even bigger hurdles, county Manager/Administrative Coordinator Casey Bradley said Wednesday.
Without additional aid, he said, an already stretched county budget will be broken as needs related to the pandemic are growing even as available county and state revenues are less because of the shutdown to slow the spread of the virus.
“We have little to no revenues to address the concerns posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bradley said during an online meeting organized by Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski to push for increased federal COVID-19-related aid for Wisconsin.
Wisconsin previously received about $2.2 billion in federal CARES Act dollars to address costs incurred because of the pandemic. The public health crisis caused schools and businesses to completely close for two months when Gov. Tony Evers issued his safer at home order.
That money has helped address concerns, Baldwin said, but much more funding is needed to help the state recover from the devastation caused by the virus. To address those needs, the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act five weeks ago that would provide $3 trillion to communities across the nation, including $1 trillion for state and local governments.
“The CARES Act was a start, but it wasn’t enough,” Baldwin said. “It is way past due for the Senate to get this done.”
Senate Republicans appear unlikely to take up the bill before July 20 at the earliest. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday the Senate will consider the package after a recess and said Democrats are playing “political theater” with the issue.
Baldwin said people in Wisconsin and elsewhere can’t afford to wait for assistance. Without additional resources, she said, many local governments will face employee furloughs and layoffs and will be unable to provide much-needed services at a time when people most need them.
Godlewski seconded that concern. Local governments already are making budget cuts and using reserve funds to address needs caused by the pandemic. But those actions “simply are not enough” to meet the needs, she said, which appear likely to continue as much of Wisconsin is experiencing a surge of new COVID-19 cases.
“We need the federal government to step up and do their jobs for the people of Wisconsin,” Godlewski said.
As a sign of COVID-19-related difficulties, Kenosha County Treasurer Teri Jacobson said her office is receiving many calls from residents there saying they are unable to pay their property taxes this year related to the pandemic. She predicted typical annual delinquent taxes could double this year, from $4 million to $8 million, leaving the county without necessary funding for such programs as human services.
Without additional federal funding “it really makes it difficult for us to survive this crisis,” Jacobson said.