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Who’s to blame? Evers controls the COVID response funding

Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 19, 2020

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers says he will extend his legally suspect statewide mask mandate into the new year in the hope of slowing the spread of a virus that all of his previous efforts have failed to slow. 

The Democrat on Wednesday announced he will extend again his currently extended mandate, which is set to expire on Saturday. Evers takes the action even as the Wisconsin Supreme Court mulls whether the overreaching administration — again — broke the law in issuing the emergency health order. 

“It’s clear based on where we’re headed, we cannot afford to stop or have a gap in some of the only mitigation efforts we still have in place,” the governor said, complaining that his administration is being challenged in court. 

This would be the second extension of the statewide mandate, that first went into effect  in August. Evers’ edict and similar local orders have done nothing to stop a surge in COVID-19 cases sweeping through Wisconsin, much of the Midwest, the nation and the world. On Wednesday, Wisconsin reported another 7,989 cases, with 52 more deaths and intensive care unit beds filling up fast, according to the state Department of Health Services. 

What Evers really wants is a statewide lockdown, like the one he and his power-grabbing health Secretary-designee Andrea Palm ordered last spring, as the pandemic took hold. He’d do it again if it wasn’t for those meddling conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and their adherence to state law. The court in May struck down the extended lockdown, finding that Palm failed to follow state law requiring the administration work with the Legislature on public health rules after the first 60-day emergency declaration expired. 

Justices earlier this week heard oral arguments in a lawsuit seeking to have the court invalidate the orders that created Evers’ mask mandate. 

While the governor, his political allies and his public relations firm (Wisconsin’s mainstream media) exclusively blame the Republican-controlled Legislature for “failing to act,” it is Evers who has controlled the funding for coronavirus-fighting resources and initiatives. 

In April, the Legislature approved a package of bipartisan bills which gave Evers authority over some $2 billion in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) act. 

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has led the charge in criticism of Republicans while remaining soft on Evers, jabbed in May that the governor had “free rein on how to spend the federal money, leaving Republicans who control the Legislature on the sidelines.” 

Republicans are right when they say the core of COVID-19 response measures,  from testing and tracking of the disease to protecting the state’s most vulnerable populations and its health workers, rests on this administration’s shoulders — for better or worse. 

And there’s a lot of worse in Team Evers’ handling of the crisis, as Wisconsin Spotlight recently reported. 

“Every COVID death is tragic and if there was a way for the Legislature and the governor to write a bill to stop COVID deaths, I guarantee we would have done it,” said state Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls). “But the governor was given $2 billion to fight COVID that has to be used by the end of the year and he has sole authority as to how those funds are used.” 

Brandtjen said Evers has used that authority to prioritize $15 million in grants to bail out the arts, compared to $7 million on COVID-19 testing at Wisconsin’s 373 nursing homes this past spring. 

“Our governor has not used the science to shield the elderly and those most at risk,” the lawmaker said. 

Evers’ handling of the CARES Act funding has caught the attention of U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil. The Janesville Republican in July asked the governor to clarify why, according to a U.S. Treasury Department report, had just 3.8 percent of the $2 billion been spent. Evers at the time responded that much of the money was marked to be spent for programs and that he didn’t want to spend through the money before knowing if there would be another round of federal funding. But he was slow to spell out where the money was targeted. 

“We should be addressing the needs of our state now, when Wisconsinites need it most,” the congressman said in a press release. “It is important we have clear, up-to-date information on where CARES Act dollars have been spent and how the state intends to spend remaining funds.”

Among the delayed expenditures, $445 million pledged to “ensure Wisconsin hospital systems and communities are prepared to handle surge.” It wasn’t until October, more than four months after after Evers first announced it, that the money began being distributed to the health care providers. 

The surge in a number of communities had already begun. 

“If this were a Republican governor and administration there would be people discussing recall because of the malfeasance,” said Mike Mikalsen, chief of staff for Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater). “What we keep hearing and see printed every day is that this is all the Republicans’ fault, but the governor didn’t need legislative approval” to move ahead with the COVID-19 response programs. 

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