This July marks the end of the 2021-2022 budget process in Wisconsin. After months of gathering information from state agencies, constituents, and special interest groups, our Governor and state legislature have crafted a budget that will fund numerous programs and services throughout the state, including those affecting older adults, people with disabilities, and their caregivers, for the next two years. As of the writing of this article, it is not yet known what provisions the final budget will contain; however, it is likely that some of the following topics will be addressed.
Caregiver Supports: In Wisconsin, we are facing a caregiver crisis that is growing more dire by the day. Wisconsin lacks the number of professional caregivers needed to support our populations who are aging or have disabilities, putting a strain on family caregivers. Several proposals have been put forth to address this issue. For family caregivers, the proposals center around providing support to those in a caregiving role through expanded FMLA benefits, providing tax credits for expenses incurred while caregiving, and ensuring family caregivers receive important health information about their loved one. For professional caregivers, the proposals include properly funding long-term care systems such that paid caregivers can be paid a competitive, living wage, developing standardized training, and other financial incentives.
ADRC Reinvestment: ADRC’s across the state have been underfunded and struggle to provide core services. To remedy this problem, advocates proposed a minimum of 27 million dollars to allow all ADRC’s to fully fund these core services and an additional 25 million dollars to allow ADRC’s to keep pace with our growing population and expand the following services statewide: Dementia Care Specialist, Elder Benefit Specialists, caregiver supports, health promotion services, care transition programs, tribal ADRC’s, and statewide support systems.
Transportation Services: Proposals include increasing funding for public transit, paratransit, tribal elderly transportation grants, and for employment access and mobility programs.
Employment Services: Employment for people with disabilities continues to be a challenge without sufficient funding and supports. Governor Evers proposed expanding Project Search, which provides on the job training to young people with disabilities, and increasing funding for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Mental Health: To improve access to healthcare for people suffering from mental illness, there are proposals to increase reimbursement rates, ensure services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, support local crisis programs and peer-run respite centers, establish regional crisis centers and crisis stabilization facilities, reform the emergency detention processes, expand the Veteran’s Outreach and Recovery Program, and more.
Housing: The supply of affordable, universally accessible housing continues to be outstripped by demand in Brown County and other areas throughout Wisconsin. Proposals to address this issue include funding to hire regional housing navigators, expanding the Homestead Tax Credit and State Housing Tax Credits, and increase funding for homeless prevention programs.
If you took the time to reach out to your elected officials to share your thoughts and stories on these vitally important topics, we applaud you! While it is normal to feel some anxiety about speaking up, our elected officials cannot truly act in the interest of the people they represent without knowing what we value. Even if something you advocated for didn’t make it into the final budget, don’t be discouraged as there will always be more opportunities to be heard. Advocacy work is an ongoing process, and seeing meaningful change often takes years. The important thing is to keep going and never give up!