Vote to end mask mandate postponed due to concerns over food assistance program

NOW: Vote to end mask mandate postponed due to concerns over food assistance program

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- In a turn of events, Assembly Republicans canceled their vote on a resolution to end the statewide mask order. 

Overnight, Republicans realized revoking the mask mandate could result in the state losing millions in federal funding which prompted Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) to cancel the vote.

The state was at risk of losing $49 million a month for the food assistance program that helps feed low-income households and assists thousands who are out of work due to the pandemic, according to the memo released by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau

“As we received new information we see there are some questions that are raised whether or not it would have a significant financial impact on Wisconsin,” said Vos. “Our job is to guarantee when we pass legislation we know what the ramifications are.”

Many Republicans were not aware until Thursday morning the fiscal impact it could have on nearly 250,000 Wisconsinites who use the Foodshare program.  

States who enact emergency orders receive additional federal funding for the program after Congress passed the federal CARES Act. 

Democrats praised the decision to postpone the vote, but it could be short-lived. 

“I am relieved,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh). “I’m glad we’re not acting if it’s going to jeopardize 50 million a month in FoodShare funding during a time so many have been displaced and their increased need.”

The Senate already approved the resolution to revoke the mask mandate on Tuesday. After learning about the fiscal impact, the sponsor of the resolution, Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), added an amendment to the COVID-19 relief bill that he thinks would restore the federal funds to those enrolled in the food assistance program. 

The amendment passed and now awaits approval from the Assembly. Speaker Vos said he wants to wait and until he’s certain Sen. Nass’ amendment would keep the funding intact.

“We do not want to repeat that mistake,” Vos said.

Dozens of health care organizations urged Republicans to reconsider invalidating the mask order as they say it’s one of the most effective tools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Vos plans to reschedule a vote on the mask order in the near future. 

“When we pass it, and we will pass it, we do it in a way that doesn’t have any financial implications for the state.”

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