As the legislative Joint Committee on Finance begins budget deliberations Thursday, Wisconsin counties will likely suffer from the dismal economic conditions due to budget cuts.
County Health and Human Services programs in particular are seeing sizeable cuts, according to a report from the Wisconsin Counties Association. The report estimates these cuts will amount to nearly $60 million over the biennium, but that figure could increase because not all cuts were included in the research.
One of the programs facing the largest decrease in funding is Children and Families Basic County Allocation, a program that funds child protective services, child abuse and neglect investigations, and services to children at risk of becoming delinquent. As of now, it stands to lose about $20 million in funding.
The Income Maintenance Administration Allocation is another program slated to lose $11 million over the biennium. IMAA funds application-processing staff for programs such as FoodShare, Medical Assistance and BadgerCare Plus. According to the report, staff members are already overloaded and this cut will slow down eligibility acceptance even more.
Another cut listed in the report is a $11.8 million decrease in Youth Aids payments, which funds juvenile delinquency-related services, community-based services for juveniles and out-of-home placement. The result, the report said, means counties will be forced to spend more on out-of-home placement than community-based prevention and intervention services.
John Reinemann, legislative director for WCA, said the report was provided to county officials so they could testify and voice their concerns about the new budget in front of the Wisconsin state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.
Joint Finance Committee member Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said funding cuts for county programs are one of the main concerns for the committee and was one of the most important concerns of citizens who attended the committee’s listening sessions.
“The counties are on the frontline of providing a lot of key services for many of the citizens who are really in trouble, especially in this tough economic time,” Hansen said. “These cuts are a real concern to me and to every member of Joint Finance.”
Hansen added the committee will begin the budget process on Thursday, where they will mold Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget into their own to be approved by the Legislature. The committee will meet every Tuesday and Thursday until May to work on the budget, he added.
According to Hansen, the state has been forced to make drastic cuts in many areas, and these cuts have deepened as the economy has worsened both at the state and national level. He said the committee will try to minimize the blow to state programs as much as possible, but added that the cuts will still hurt the counties.
Joint Finance Committee member Rep. Robin Vos, R-Racine, does not agree that important programs like Youth Aid should undergo funding cuts because the cuts will only hurt already struggling families.