Sen. Baldwin: Wisconsin Legislature, meet ASAP on COVID-19 funding waivers

    Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaking at a podium
    Sen. Tammy Baldwin photo by ”>CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Gov. Tony Evers isn’t the only one pushing the Wisconsin Legislature to come into a special session. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is making the same request — for a different reason. 

    Baldwin is asking the Legislature to convene ASAP to remove impediments to Wisconsin securing federal waivers related to COVID-19. The governor and the state Department of Health Services (DHS) currently cannot access federal Medicaid funds because of the changes Republicans made during the Dec. 2018 lame-duck session to give the Legislature the power over such waivers.

     Without legislative action, the state could miss out on “an estimated $150 million per quarter in federal Medicaid funding made available by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” Baldwin says.

    On April 3, Baldwin sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) pushing for them to meet.

    Sen. Scott Fitzgerald and Speaker Robin Vos hold a virtual press conference (six feet apart) on March 25, 2020
    Sen. Scott Fitzgerald and Speaker Robin Vos hold a virtual press conference (six feet apart) on March 25, 2020

    “In order to ensure that our state’s health care system, including our Medicaid program, is prepared and supported, I call upon you to immediately convene a special session of the legislature and work with Governor Evers,” Baldwin wrote. “Now that Congress has acted, it is time for Wisconsin to take action and ensure our state receives the federal Medicaid funding and flexibility it needs to respond to this crisis.”

    As Wisconsin Examiner reported, Republicans changed the law so that Evers and his administration could not directly apply for waivers without the Legislature meeting and approving the action.

    Legislators have known for some time that COVID-19 would require states applying for what are called “1135 waivers” a reference to the section of the Social Security Act that applies in a public health crisis. These waivers are specifically designed, as Baldwin points out, for “major disasters or public health emergencies.” In March, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provided states with information and a comprehensive checklist so they would be ready to apply for the emergency waivers to ensure access to healthcare items and services.

     Baldwin worked with Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson to insert a fix into the federal CARES Act to ensure that Wisconsin is eligible for federal funds — but the state needs to take action to ensure access to the increased Medicaid funding that is available. 

    “In this time of crisis, it is vital that elected officials take decisive action,” Baldwin wrote. “Legislation is necessary in order to ensure that the state of Wisconsin is fully equipped to respond to the challenges ahead.”

    Melanie Conklin
    Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.