States urge Trump not to cut National Guard COVID funding

    Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, speaks March 12 to troops mobilizing for state active duty in response to the Wisconsin Department of Health Service’s request for assistance. The troops will be transporting 37 Wisconsin citizens who were aboard a cruise ship with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to their homes for self-quarantine once they arrive in Wisconsin. Wisconsin National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Baum

    On the cusp of Memorial Day, states are being pushed to confront the Trump Administration over the continued funding of local National Guard COVID-19 operations. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin joined representatives Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan in a letter to President Donald Trump to request an extension of funding for Guard support.

    Their request comes as more than 120 Democratic and Republican lawmakers nationwide join their voices in urging additional aid for National Guard COVID operations. In the letter Baldwin and company highlighted that “the work of the Wisconsin National Guard has significantly advanced our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

    In Wisconsin, guard troops have participated in a variety of efforts to support the state’s response. Guard members served as poll workers during the April primary, and have conducted sample testing across the state. Self-isolation and alternative care facilities for COVID patents are also being manned largely by the National Guard. Troops have also conducted extensive testing operations within some Department of Corrections facilities.

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    “The Wisconsin National Guard is supporting task forces working to assist local communities with creating isolation facilities and hospital surge capacity,” the letter states, “including staffing an alternative care facility in Milwaukee. Most importantly the guard is operating 25 field testing teams working throughout the state to provide both community and targeted testing.” Without this support, the state could have been woefully under-manned to respond to the public health emergency.

    Nevertheless, the federal government has signaled that funding for Guard operations will cut off in late June. “The mission is not done yet,” said National Guard Chief General Joseph Lengyel, Politico reports. “The one thing we know for sure is that this mission is going to continue beyond the 24 of June.”

    Over 40,000 Guard members are deployed throughout every state and federal territory testing people, transporting patients, conducting contact tracing, among many other duties. Despite Lengyel’s acknowledgment that more work needs to be done, he’s warning state Guard leaders to prepare for a cut-off. Some troops may be diverted to operations overseas in Ukraine, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa or elsewhere.

    “All of these efforts are essential to mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on Wisconsinites, and the need for this support is expected to persist through the end of the year,” the members of Congress write.  “We share the Governor’s [Tony Evers’] concern that prematurely ceasing federal funding for National Guard COVID-19 support operations will hinder Wisconsin’s ability to respond and could contribute to a possible second wave of infection.”

    Though Wisconsin has worked to increase testing capacity, secure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and prepare for hospital surges, many states have been put in a position of essentially competing against each other and the federal government for resources. Trump has also said that he hopes to fully reopen the country, even in the face of a second wave of COVID-19.

    Removing the National Guard’s ability to aid in pandemic  relief activities may leave states vulnerable to the worst outcomes from high infection rates. “In order to safely reopen the state of Wisconsin, we must continue to respond to the public health challenge before us,” Baldwin and her colleagues write.. “The Wisconsin National Guard is vital to this effort.”

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.