A report over the weekend from the Wisconsin Center for Independent Journalism pointed out that the state is passing up millions of dollars in federal aid that would go toward helping people with disabilities find work. The excellent article from Tegan Wendland goes into detail on what the Department of Workforce Development's Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) does, and why there is a long waiting list for the disabled to receive these services today.
DVR currently serves about 17,000 people, while an additional 4,077 are on its waiting list. Last year the agency found jobs for 3,200 people.Naturally, Walker's DWD came out with their excuse list today as to why they haven't ponied up the money to end the waiting list, but the reasons make their decisions seem all the more pathetic. Here are the two biggest ones.
The agency has been cited for poor performance in the past. In 2000, a state audit criticized DVR for long wait times that are similar to the current delay in accessing services.
DVR officials, however, say they are pleased with their success in bringing the length of the wait list down from its peak of about 13,000 in 2009. (Yeah, when we were in the middle of the worst collapse in the U.S. economy in 75 years. You get no prize for lowering it from that level.)
Cathy Steffke, advocacy specialist with Disability Rights Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy group, said that underfunding of DVR is “one of the biggest barriers to employment in the state.”
In the new fiscal year, Wisconsin will receive $55.6 million in federal funds to run its employment programs for people with disabilities, and spend $15.1 million in state funds. That is the minimum amount the state can spend on the $71-million-a-year program without being subject to federal penalties.
Wisconsin could get an additional $14.2 million in federal funds if it were to come up with a $3.9 million match to cover funding for the next two years, which DVR officials acknowledge would allow them to serve more people.
“If we did receive our full state match we could work with another 3,000 individuals,” DVR administrator Mike Greco said.
• Eliminating the DVR’s wait list immediately would require $3.7 million in additional state dollars over the biennium beyond the $3.9 million in additional state matching dollars to deliver services and hire additional staff to accommodate the increased volume of cases, for a total additional commitment of approximately $7.6 million in state funds.So on one hand, they're complaining about "uncertainty" relating to the sequester at the federal level (supported by Walker's fellow Baggers), but at the same time, they have no problem taking the $55.6 million in federal aid to run the program at its current level. Ridiculous on its face.
• The full match of federal dollars to eliminate the waiting list in Wisconsin will not be available as long as across-the-board limits in federal spending remain in place due to the sequester.
Even more than that is the fact that this administration claims it can't afford $7.6 million for this program over the next 2 years. Hmmm, if only there was some way we could come up with that revenue....Oh wait! I know! We could have knocked off JUST OVER 1% of the Koo-Koo Tax Cuts, and have more than 4,000 disabled people get services. Naw, can't do that. Gotta have that full $647 million cut be put into law, with nearly half going to people making more than $100,000 (who probably aren't needing the services of the DVR).
Cool priorities, they have at WisGOP, isn't it? This has to be hit again and again. If the Republicans only intended to use the savings of Act 10 and the cuts to local government as a one-shot deal in Walker's first budget, they'd be responding by raising services at the state level and/or increasing aids to local governments and school districts in this budget (both of which can take pressure off of the property tax). They chose not to do that, and instead have blown this one-time surplus on tax cuts that have the largest savings go the richest Wisconsinites. And because of the lowered revenues and $500 million+ structural deficit that goes into the next budget, it'll be very hard to add spending in future years to take care of any backlog that may persist in 2015. Of course, tying the hands of the state for the 2015-17 budget is the intelligence of WisGOP's tax-cut design, much like how Bush's huge deficits tied the hands of Obama and the Democrats when they took over in 2009. (Walker is quite Dubya-esque on a lot of levels, isn't he?)
The amount of state spending to remove the waiting list for the DWD's assistance program for people with disabilities is a drop in the bucket compared to the tax cuts that were installed for this budget. Heck, the tax break given to parents who send their kids to private K-12 schools is 4 times bigger than the $7.6 million it would have cost to help 4,000 disabled Wisconsinites. And the investment in getting the disabled these services would pay off fiscally as more of the disabled would be likely to get employment, instead of being unemployed and/or on disability, which increases state spending. That seems to be a much better bang for the buck to me than subsidizing a millionaire in Mequon to send their kids to University School.
But improving the quality of life for the disabled is not why this administration and the WisGOP was given millions of dollars in campaign cash, and instead of questioning those priorities when an article like this one comes out, the WisGOPs will probably try again to boot the WCIJ off of the UW Campus again for telling the truth. Sickening.