Evers Seeks Disaster Declaration as Unemployment Grows


MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to issue a major disaster declaration for the state of Wisconsin due to the coronavirus pandemic, as unemployment claims hit a daily high and the state’s health secretary warned lawmakers that Medicaid enrollments were going to increase dramatically.

Evers said he hoped the declaration, which also would cover Wisconsin’s federally recognized tribes, would allow the states to access critical programs to support its response, including community disaster loans, public assistance, direct assistance, and crisis counseling.

“The response to this outbreak has caused multiple deaths, exhausted many of our resources, resulted in record unemployment claims, and taken a toll on the community infrastructure that is in place to protect the public,” Evers said. “We need federal assistance to help rebuild those critical safety nets and ensure they remain strong.”

As of Monday, Wisconsin had had more than 1,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 24 deaths, based on state and local health department reports.

The number of initial claims for unemployment benefits topped 24,600 on Monday, making it the highest daily total during the outbreak. Since March 15, there have been nearly 222,000 claims, which is 17-times higher than the same period a year ago.

Also Tuesday, Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm warned lawmakers that swift action would be needed to bolster the Medicaid program which serves more than 1 million poor, elderly and disabled people.

“The pandemic is likely to significantly increase Medicaid expenditures (through June 2021),” Palm wrote to the co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee. “Medicaid members will require more health care services, and the pandemic’s effects on the nation’s economy will likely drive up Medicaid enrollment.”

Evers and Republicans who control the Legislature are discussing a state aid package to complement an estimated $2.2 billion coming the state’s way as part of the federal stimulus.

Lawmakers were expected to receive an analysis of what money is coming to the state under the federal bill as soon as Tuesday. Republicans have said they wanted to understand that before convening the Legislature. Preparations were proceeding for lawmakers to virtually meet as soon as next week.

Palm told lawmakers that December projections were for Medicaid costs to exceed the budget by $40 million over the next two years. But now, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Palm said those estimates were “obsolete.”

She said the department was working with the Legislature on federal waivers for more flexible requirements for health care providers during the outbreak related to reimbursement, allowable settings, certification, and other topics. The state will also receive an estimated $150 million every three months from the federal government to help offset Medicaid costs that come with the expected increase in enrollment, Palm said.

But she cautioned that the cumulative effect on the program is dependent on the duration and severity of the COVID-19 outbreak.

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