Guest column: A 'no' vote on Family Care expansion is unfair to taxpayers

3:51 PM, Jun. 2, 2013  |  Comments
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This week the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee will make a critical decision impacting all residents in Northeast Wisconsin. Until now, the decision about whether people with disabilities and elderly in our area will have access to long-term supports through the Family Care and IRIS programs available in the rest of the state has hinged on cost.

In many ways, those arguments are old. We know Family Care is a more efficient system - new estimates confirm once again that it costs $632 per member per month less than the outdated long-term-care programs currently operating in Brown, Kewaunee, Door, Oconto, Shawano, Menominee and Marinette counties.

But last week, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau shared new evidence in favor of expansion of Family Care that should get the attention of every taxpayer and, frankly, every legislator from our area.

The Fiscal Bureau points out the blatant unfairness of a statewide program that is available to a majority of residents but not those in Northeast Wisconsin. And it also sheds light on the fact that for more than a decade Northeast Wisconsin taxpayers have been helping to cover the cost of these programs in other counties and not receiving the benefits themselves.

With a powerful 16-member legislative budget committee that has two members from our region, you would think this week's vote would be simple. We should be caring for our most vulnerable residents, particularly when we taxpayers are already paying for it.

Recently, disability and aging groups conducted a small survey of residents who are waiting for basic long-term supports in our region. Some reported they had been waiting several years. Helen from Door County is 96 and hopes she can get help cleaning her house and taking a bath. David in Oconto County is worried about the safety of his daughter with autism. He is a single parent and doesn't want her to spend the rest of her life watching television. In Shawano County, Rose wonders how she will care for daughter with Down syndrome when she is no longer able to do so.

In addition to citing the inequity of this "statewide" program and unfair burden to Northeast Wisconsin taxpayers, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau cites several other arguments in favor of expansion to our part of the state:

? Equal treatment of counties: Throughout the history of the Family Care program, the state has approved every previous request for expansion from other counties. Why would legislators stand in the way of supports for northeast residents?

Wisconsin's commitment to the federal government: The Department of Health Services made a formal commitment to the federal government to make Family Care available statewide. Since the federal government pays 60 percent of all costs, backing down from this commitment could mean a severe and unnecessary penalty.

? Cost savings: DHS capped Family Care expansion in 2011, citing its need to develop and implement cost savings strategies; now these strategies have been put in place with evidence of reduced costs. We should be able to move on.

Last December, Milwaukee County celebrated an end to a 35-year waiting list for county residents with disabilities. No senior has had to wait for supports there since 2002. In March, we congratulated our neighbors in Outagamie County for ending a 25-year wait list. Two years ago in that county more than 300 people were waiting.

Over 1000 people are waiting today in the seven northeast counties that want to provide Family Care/IRIS supports to residents who are elderly and with disabilities.

One vote stands in the way of the Helens, Davids and Roses in Northeast Wisconsin getting the support they need. Let's hope legislators who represent all taxpayers do the right thing.

Submitted by Patrick Evans, Barbara Larson-Herber, Mark Moeller, Mike Duschene, Steve McCarthy, Harry Macco

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