By M.D. Kittle — Gov. Tony Evers had the choice between protecting funding for the unemployed and the hungry and holding on to the emergency powers that he has abused.
Evers chose power.
The governor on Friday quickly vetoed a Republican-led COVID relief bill that included $100 million to combat the virus, protections for businesses and schools against frivolous pandemic-related lawsuits, and federal money for jobless and hungry Wisconsinites.
It was a compromise bill Evers originally said he would sign. But amendments along the way limited the Democrat’s ability to issue endless public health emergency declarations and stopped employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccines.
Evers wouldn’t have it.
“Wisconsinites know a compromise when they see one, and this isn’t it,” the governor said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Republicans once again chose to put politics before people, abandoned that compromise, and passed a bill they knew I wouldn’t sign.”
Funny. That’s exactly what Republicans are saying about Evers.
“It appears Governor Evers cares more about his own power than the people of Wisconsin,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said in a joint statement. “The legislature passed a Coronavirus Relief Bill that provides the state more than $100 million to fight the virus and ensures that Wisconsinites have access to necessary medications, vaccines and COVID-19 tests.”
They noted Evers’ opposition to a provision in the bill that would have prevented health officials from closing places of worship. And the governor wants to retain full control over federal COVID-19 funds without any oversight from the Legislature. More so, Republican leadership said, the governor’s veto rejects moving COVID-19 vaccines with greater urgency than the glacial pace the administration has exhibited.
Evers’ veto also costs Wisconsin up to $6.5 million in federal unemployment funding and nearly $50 million monthly in SNAP food assistance money.
A Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo obtained by Empower Wisconsin finds the state “would forgo $1.3 million in federal reimbursement funding,” potentially a total of $6.5 million, if it does not again suspend a waiting period requirement for jobless benefits. The COVID relief package met the requirement. Evers veto put the funding in peril.
“His veto today means that a good many of the 106,000 unemployed workers in Wisconsin will lose their federal benefits on Monday,” State Sen. Van Wanggaard said in a press release.
Evers and his Department of Workforce Development have taken a lot of heat for the better part of the past year for their failure to meet the state’s unemployment crisis. Tens of thousands of jobless Wisconsinites were forced to wait months for benefits, with state audits showing a complete breakdown in the Unemployment Insurance system.
“Evers has knowingly jeopardized $49 million a month in SNAP benefits. He vetoed $100 million for testing, PPE and vaccines,” Wanggaard said.
Democrats had blasted a previous Senate resolution that ended Evers’ emergency declaration and its accompanying statewide mask mandate. They said thousands would go hungry because removing the declaration would cost the state the SNAP funding.
The Republican-controlled Legislature fixed the glitch, and passed the amended resolution this week. Evers immediately defied the Legislature and issued another statewide mask mandate. The Republican COVID relief bill opened up the SNAP funding while restricting the governor’s emergency power.
Now Evers and all the Democrats who rejected the bill have done what they accused Republicans of doing; taking away funding from those in need.
“It is sad that Gov. Evers is playing games at the expense of disadvantaged people by putting $50 million in food assistance benefits in jeopardy should the court eliminate the unlawful public health emergency,” Republican leadership said in a statement.
Evers’ veto also continues to expose small businesses, schools and other nonprofits to what legal experts say will be a flood of frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits. Without protections, more businesses will be forced to close or remain afraid to reopen, bill proponents say.
“We have the ability to safely re-open our communities and the provisions in AB1 will help us do just that,” said state Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma). “Those who are unemployed due to the pandemic need to be assured that they’ll receive their UI funds on time. Our seniors need to know that their vaccines will be covered. Our schools, businesses, and places of worship need to know that they can open without the fear of frivolous litigation.”