“The federal government’s gotta step to the plate,” Evers says.
With hope dwindling that Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin will ever pass a second coronavirus relief bill, Gov. Tony Evers has turned to federal lawmakers, the president, and the US health secretary for immediate assistance.
Evers on Thursday sent two letters—one to President Donald Trump and Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation, and another to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar—pleading for federal intervention as the coronavirus continues to spread at a high rate in Wisconsin.
“This crisis has been exacerbated by a Legislature unwilling to meaningfully acknowledge, address, or act upon the crisis we face, which includes but is not limited to continued litigation efforts to end our statewide mitigation strategies,” Evers wrote as he asked for $466 million in federal money for mitigation efforts such as testing, contact tracing, hospital surge capacity, and vaccine distribution.
Funding for those programs is set to run out when the first federal COVID-19 relief bill expires Dec. 31.
In his letter to Azar, Evers requested that Wisconsin get priority vaccine distribution for the state’s high-risk residents and 450,000 healthcare workers. The governor wrote it was especially urgent because of the Legislature’s inaction and the state Supreme Court’s decision to strip Evers of key powers when it struck down the statewide Safer at Home order.
Almost eight months after lawmakers passed the state’s first relief package, Assembly Republicans finally presented a package of 50 new proposals this week. Included were some true bipartisan proposals, such as doubling the number of public health staff addressing COVID-19, extending the prohibition of co-payments for COVID-19, and making home antigen tests available.
But the package was loaded with poison pills like measures that would essentially defund school districts that went virtual, require local health officers either close or restrict all business or none at all, and reinforce limited liability for employers to make it more difficult for employees to claim workers’ compensation if they catch COVID-19.
The Assembly proposal also includes just $100 million in new spending, short of the $541 million plan Evers released last month.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) tweeted Wednesday morning that “all 50 ideas are good and they should take our bill and sign it in December!”
Democrats have not been impressed.
“We’re hopeful to find common ground on a number of [proposals],” Evers said Thursday. “There’s some that are poison pills and some we need more information on.”
Meanwhile Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), the incoming Senate majority leader, has said he doesn’t see a need for his chamber to meet until January and he has not signaled support for Vos’ plan.
Evers called LeMahieu’s decision “disappointing” and that he wants to convince Senate Republicans to meet and that he would only force them to come in by calling a special session as a last resort.
“It takes both houses to act, and apparently the Senate is not prepared to do so,” Evers said.
With 4,618 new cases and 60 additional deaths reported Thursday by the Department of Health Services, the state now has 399,708 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 3,562 Wisconsinites have died of the virus. The virus’ growth is slowing in Wisconsin, but DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said in a Thursday media briefing the state cannot let its guard down, especially amid the holiday season.
Wisconsin, while no longer the worst hotspot in the nation according to New York Times data, is still among the hardest-hit states.
“At the end of the day, the federal government’s gotta step to the plate,” Evers said. “They’ve done it once. We are gonna need it again, at least one more time and likely two or three more times. We’re in a very difficult situation.”