Photo by Connor Betts on Unsplash.
Today the Republican majority on Wisconsin’s bipartisan budget-writing committee rejected a proposal that would have allocated $73 million for projects to help address homelessness. They instead chose to implement their own plan, which would allocate $1.2 million over two years for a housing assistance program.
Governor Evers’ proposed plan for the $73 million would have gone to a number of programs, including affordable housing and rental assistance. Republicans on the committee objected to those programs, saying that they did not believe it was an efficient way to spend the money. Senator Duey Stroebel, a Republican from Saukville, said that he believed even if the money was given, there was no guarantee that it would be spent.
“I believe they’ve gotten about $55 million in rental assistance in Dane County alone,” said Stroebel. “And I believe that they have only deployed a small fraction of that money. I mean, we’re talking Dane County, alone, $55 million, and they haven’t been able to get it out the door.”
Dane County Received $10 million for rental assistance from the CARES Act in 2020 and $16.2 million for rental assistance from federal COVID-19 relief funding.
The news comes as Madison is struggling to decide what to do with temporary permitted encampments for unhoused residents at Reindahl and Starkweather parks.
Joe Volk is the executive director for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness. He says federal funds could have been used to help unhoused individuals — but that instead, Republicans held up the funding.
“People are hurting, people are unemployed, without jobs, facing losing their homes and it is unconscionable and mean-spirited that the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee has not released these funds,” said Volk. “It’s long overdue. They should act immediately and make these funds available.”
Ultimately, the committee voted to increase funding for housing assistance by just 1.2 million dollars over the next two years. The vote was a predictable partisan split, with Republican lawmakers voting for the modest increase and Democratic lawmakers voting against.
GOP lawmakers also highlighted changes to a small grants program administered by the state, which gives $75,000 to one municipality a year to help homeless people find and retain jobs. Under the current program, those municipalities must provide at least $50,000 in matching funds. Senator Marklein says that they’re changing the program so that more municipalities can participate.
“What better act can we do than to help somebody who is homeless get a job?” Said Marklein. “And what we’re doing in this portion of this motion is, currently, the match is $50,000, we are reducing that to $10,000 to make that more afforable. So, hopefully, municipalities will be encouraged to participate.”
Ultimately, the changes also passed on a party-line vote.
The Joint Finance Committee voted on a number of other provisions, including increased funding for Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism. Wisconsin Republicans chose to reject a proposal from Governor Evers that would have spent up to $100,000 on body-worn cameras for state Capitol police officers.
The legislative budget committee had also been expected to take up broadband expansion today, but committee leaders announced this morning that action on that topic will likely be delayed for several weeks.