Lawmakers to vote on how to spend billions in relief aid, no plans to secure millions in food assistance

NOW: Lawmakers to vote on how to spend billions in relief aid, no plans to secure millions in food assistance

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Lawmakers will vote on a series of bills to spend billions in federal COVID-19 relief aid, but there are currently no plans to secure millions in food assistance aid. 

Starting next month, thousands of seniors and low-income families will see their monthly food benefits dramatically reduced after the Wisconsin Supreme Court eliminated the state’s public health emergency

For some seniors, their monthly benefits will drop from $204 to $16 because Wisconsin no longer qualifies for an additional $69 million in funding for the state’s FoodShare program, according to the Hunger Task Force. 

“Thinking about them being able to shop for the things they want at the grocery store and then having all of that taken away from them because people are being wrongheaded and not thinking this through,” said Sherrie Tussler, the executive director of the Hunger Task Force. 

Lawmakers will return to the floor this week to vote on a package of GOP bills to spend billions in federal stimulus aid, but neither Democrats or Republicans have a solution to maintain millions in extra food benefits.

“There is great urgency in making sure Wisconsin receives these additional benefits, but I’m not hearing that from the other side of the aisle,” said Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine).

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said weeks ago his caucus is exploring options to secure the federal funds, but no proposals have been announced. 

It was previously known by lawmakers the federal funds would be at risk if the state no longer had a public health emergency in place. Republicans did secure the funding by adding it to a package of bills sent to Gov. Tony Evers, but in doing so, they also added several other measures he opposed, resulting in a veto.

Some Republicans believe while the extra funding is beneficial, there are more important issues to address first, such as making sure families receive their benefits to cover the cost of school lunches. 

Thousands of families were promised payments of about $1,250 for the school year to help pay for their kids' lunches since many are attending school virtually, according to a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Distributing funding for these kids who should be on reduced and low-income lunch, I think that’s the first thing we should get done,” said Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan), when asked about preserving FoodShare benefits. 

Families were supposed to get extra help because students were not in the classroom during the pandemic, but the Department of Public Instruction did not have all the students' addresses to send benefits to. 

State education officials and the Evers administration are currently working to address the issue. 

On Tuesday, the Assembly is scheduled to vote on Republican-backed bills to spend millions in federal relief aid on grants for long-term care facilities, small businesses, and the tourism industry. 

Other proposals include spending millions to replace lead services lines, expand broadband and issue payments to property taxpayers. 

It’s unclear whether Gov. Tony Evers would veto the bills if they reach his desk, but he has said he opposes giving the Legislature oversight on how to spend federal relief aid. Under current law, Evers has the power to distribute federal aid without approval from lawmakers. 

Some of the GOP proposals might not be allowed under federal law, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, who indicated they might not be permissible under the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Those bills include using the federal funds to pay down state debt, a plan to prevent tax increases on employers who use unemployment insurance and direct payments to property owners. 

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