Monday, October 9, 2017

More to learn about state's Vets Homes, even if Walker thinks he isn't accountable

You may remember that the state has had several issues at the State Veterans Home at King, including significant understaffing and increased overtime, several stories with details of nelgect of aged and disabled veterans at the home, and water that looked like this.

In response to those concerns, and the fact that the Walker Administration used excess money given by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to plug budget holes instead of improving conditions at the homes, the Joint Finance Committee was spurred into action during this year’s state budget deliberations. The JFC voted 16-0 to require the Walker Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs to send them more information on how they planned to manage and operate the Veterans Trust Fund and the state’s Veterans Homes.
As passed by the Legislature, Assembly Bill 64 would have required the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) to receive approval of the Joint Committee on Finance under a 14-day passive review process prior to making any transfers of moneys from unappropriated balances in the program revenue appropriations for the state veterans homes to the veterans trust fund….

As passed by the Legislature, Assembly Bill 64 would have required DVA to submit a report to the Joint Committee on Finance that contains the following: (a) a description and analysis of the Department's administrative costs supported by the veterans trust fund and by revenue generated from the state veterans homes; (b) proposals for changes to the Department's administrative structure or position levels and salaries to increase efficiency or administrative costs; and (c) two proposed long-term plans to maintain the solvency of the veterans trust fund, one of which that includes transfers from the appropriations of the state veterans homes and one of which that does not include such transfers….

As passed by the Legislature, Assembly Bill 64 would have required DVA to do the following to implement recommendations contained in the Legislative Audit Bureau's Report 17-8 relating to the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King: (a) promulgate administrative rules to establish a formula for calculating private pay rates for nursing home and assisted living care at the state veterans homes; (b) submit a report to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by July 1, 2018, relating to the cash balance in the state veterans home PR appropriation account and providing a plan for the management and proposed use of the cash balance in the account; and (c) submit a report to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by July 1, 2018, that includes a description of the Department's efforts to establish a process for identifying and assessing the capital-related project needs for all Wisconsin Veterans Homes and a description of the Department's efforts to use this information to complete a 10-year facilities plan for the state veterans homes….
But Governor Scott Walker arrogantly rejected all of these oversight and improvement provisions as part of his 99 vetoes of the 2017-19 budget, and enabling his administration to act on its own to (mis)manage King and the Veterans Trust Fund, including a green light to send $26.2 million away from the Homes to make sure taxpayers don’t pay a dime toward the Trust Fund. At the same time, the Trust Fund condition statement says there will be a $1.5 million cut in expenses paid out by the Trust Fund in Fiscal year 2018-19, even with the transfers.

But those issues haven’t gone away just because Walker’s Administration doesn’t want to talk about them. And tomorrow’s meeting of the Joint Audit Committee will check in to see if any progress has been made regarding the ongoing issues at King and within the Trust Fund. These comments from a preview article by the Capital Times’ Katelyn Ferral are not promising.
Lawmakers on the joint audit committee are set to meet Tuesday to discuss the vetoes and follow-up on the King audits released earlier this year. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, a co-chairman of the committee, said he is unhappy with Walker’s WDVA vetoes, but said the committee will keep working on issues identified in the audit.

“We’re elected just like he is, and our fiscal body should have some oversight over these things,” he said. “I’m not giving up on those issues and I would expect that the committee will ask for additional oversight. It’s rare that an agency defies us and doesn’t do it. I believe there are several concerns remaining that are left over from the King audit.”

Some of them, he said, are staff turnover and the Department of Health Services' refusal to give the audit bureau access to its records, Cowles said.
Seems like there are a lot things that need further investigation and transparency, but it seems unlikely we can count on the Walker Administration to do the right thing on their own. Which is why a leading legislative Democrat is asking for a law that would require more information to be released to her fellow legislators and the public.
Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, sits on the Joint Finance Committee and is proposing a series of four bills that would bring more accountability to WDVA. The “King Veterans Home Accountability Package” specifies that the financial needs of Wisconsin veterans homes receive first consideration for the use of veterans home revenue before it is transferred to other WDVA funds and programs, and creates a hotline for veterans home employees, residents and their families to report abuse and neglect at veterans homes.
You’d think Shankland’s bill would have some movement, given the unanimous, bipartisan vote on Joint Finance during the budget asking for more oversight. But Ferral’s article later quotes State Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Spineless) as saying we shouldn’t expect that to happen in this session.
“The thing about it is we can pass a bill, but he can veto a bill, so what’s the point of that?” he said. “If he was a Democrat, he’d do the same thing because governors don’t like to give up power.”
True Lute, it’s not like there’s an ability for the Legislature to override a governor veto or take other actions to CHECK Gov Dropout, so whatcha gonna do? (slams head on desk)

So let’s see what we find out in tomorrow’s Joint Audit hearing, and to see if we get an update to what upgrades we cannot do at King and other veterans’ homes because the Walker Administration keeps taking money away from them to plug their budget holes. And let’s not have these concerns get put on the back burner just because the Walker Administration refuses to tell us what’s going on.

1 comment:

  1. Another arrow in Democrats' quiver. We're just a little more than year out from the midterm. Time to start making the case.

    Start with transparency and accountability for veterans.

    Fix the damn roads.
    Pay our bills on time.
    Reduce debt.
    Make it easier to vote.
    Reform redistricting.
    Clean up the water.
    Respect and expand the UW.
    Reinvigorate public education.
    Abolish WEDC.