Archives for posts with tag: budget

In perhaps the scariest article yet about Governor Walker’s budget proposals, Shawn Doherty with the Capital Times today drew attention to the fact that under Walker’s budget proposals, healthcare coverage for low-income people would take massive cuts.  This includes cuts to care for some life-threatening diseases such as End Stage Renal Disease and a rare disease called Pseudomyxoma Peritonei.  Without these treatments, Wisconsin residents with these diseases will die, which is probably why, as the Doherty pointedly illustrates, the Governor has requested a  $250,000 increase in funding for “funeral and cemetery aids” for low-income people.  That’s right, in Walker’s Wisconsin, the state will no longer pay for the healthcare that keeps you alive, but it will pay for your funeral, because that’s cheaper.  From the Capital Times:

The governor’s budget steps up payments for funerals for people on Medicaid even as it cuts nearly $500 million from the health programs that serve 1.2 million statewide.

Green, 45, is worried she could be one of them if she loses coverage through the state’s BadgerCare program.

The Manitowoc mom suffers from a rare disease called Pseudomyxoma Peritonei that requires surgeries every couple of years and regular monitoring with CAT scans. Last year, her medical costs totaled $140,000. Without help from the state’s public health programs, she says, she would have died. She still will die if she doesn’t get such help again, Green says. Her tumors are sure to return and require surgery in a year or so. After seven or eight of these operations, she says, the disease is usually terminal.

I am unemployed and have little money, but I am willing to pay more of what I do have if it means keeping people on healthcare that will save their lives.  I think it is wrong and disgusting for a government to prioritize any other spending over programs that protect our most vulnerable residents. Killing people is not a Medicaid efficiency.  Also interesting, according to the Capital Times, Governor Walker is not the only Republican governor to think it’s okay for a state to allow poor residents to die because of other funding priorities:

While kicking people off Medicaid who could die as a result may have once seemed unthinkable, it is happening in Arizona, where Republican Gov. Jan Brewer removed nearly 100 patients from organ transplant waiting lists late last year. (Interestingly, Brewer is now the subject of recall efforts for her defunding of Medicaid, which critics equate to “death panels of the poor.”) At least two of these patients have since died. Last December I wrote a blog post on this Arizona situation titled “Death by Budget Cut,” asking if our Medicaid patients in Wisconsin might face a similar fate.

This is the grimmest addition to what is now a clear pattern of Governor Walker targeting low-income people for budget cutting measures.  In addition to letting poor people die, Governor Walker’s budget proposals could force low-income seniors to lose drug coverage, it cuts family planning services for low-income people, and it puts talented, disabled adults at risk of being institutionalized because the state will no longer pay for the quality care that allows them to stay in their homes.  You may have heard Governor Walker say that his budget doesn’t raise taxes, but some Wisconsin residents will see tax increases under Walker’s budget proposal.  Guess who takes the hit? That’s right, the working poor.  And just yesterday we learned that Governor Walker’s education budget formula favors funding for wealthy districts, while cutting Milwaukee Public Schools (lots of poor kids go there) by 8%. For more details see this list by the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families.

Societies are often judged by how they treat their most vulnerable residents; under Governor Walker’s leadership we will deserve nothing but scorn.

Now that Wisconsin news outlets are shifting back and forth between news of Governor Walker’s anti-worker law, news of his budget proposals and news of elections and recall efforts, I plan to pull together short daily news summaries of keys news items from each day.  As I do almost every day, I will also log all news articles, editorials and other resources in my “Save the State” page for later reference.  I hope you find these resources helpful, but if you have any suggestions to make these pages more meaningful, don’t hesitate to send me an email at duchessofstubb at gmail dot com.

Here are Wednesday’s reasons why Scott Walker and the republican leadership are bad for Wisconsin:

1. School cuts to most districts, except wealthy suburbs of Milwaukee:

That’s right, according to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s analysis, under the formula used by the Governor’s office for his proposed cuts, some of the least-needy districts in the state will avoid any cuts whatsoever.  From the Journal Sentinel:

The Dover School District in Racine County would be the biggest winner in the state with a 17.5% increase. Other local districts that would have gained state aid and their percentages are: Fox Point (4.6%), Mequon-Thiensville (3.2%), Nicolet (2.9%), Pewaukee (7.4%) and Stone Bank (0.7%).

Meanwhile, Milwaukee Public Schools would have seen its aid decrease by 8% and a large number of other school districts would have lost 10% or more of their aid.

Even if your child happens to attend one of the few districts benefiting from this formula, does this seem like a very logical or equitable way to “share sacrifices”? The Governor  gave a news conference today where he touted that districts can off-set his cuts by cutting 10% from their employees’ pay (By the way, this is pretty much the ONLY way districts are allowed to offset these cuts. So much for local control, right). But this was widely disputed by many of the school district representatives who were at the Capitol today but were not allowed to attend the press conference because they would draw attention to the fact that our Governor pretty much lies or misleads any time he opens his mouth.

2. Lawsuits, Lawsuits, and other questionable ethics:

Today Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed a civil lawsuit to void Walker’s anti-worker legislation because it was passed illegally in a committee in which republican members knowingly violated state public meeting laws.  There will be a hearing on this lawsuit tomorrow before a Dane County judge.  According to the Journal Sentinel, this judge will on Friday also hear a different lawsuit filed against the Governor by Dane County.

Meanwhile Governor Walker today was forced to settle a joint lawsuit filed by the Isthmus and Associated Press for failing to respond to their public records requests.  Under the settlement Governor Walker will produce the requested records on a CD (so the news organizations are not burdened by printing costs) and will also pay  for the legal fees incurred by the news organizations.  (Actually, the state will pay the legal fees on the Governor’s behalf.)

Finally, Democratic Senators Pocan and Risser today were forced to boycott a different public meeting held by the republican leadership because it was not fully accessible to the public.  The governor claimed afterwards that meeting was fully open, even though key members of the public were not allowed access.

3. Terrible leadership, anti-worker laws causing a massive wave of public service retirements

The Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal ran similar pieces today on the high amount of public employees retiring because of Governor Walker’s anti-worker measures.  Although the retirements might allow some younger employees to enter the workforce, the sheer amount of retirements will result in a massive  amount of brain-drain in a number of key issue areas.  From the Capital Times:

Despite these short-term assurances, it’s clear from interviews with public employees that the potential for losing benefits in the near future looms large and is one motivation for those heading for the doors. Others are leaving because they are tired of feeling like they have a “target on their backs,” as one put it, and oppose the cuts they fear will hurt the citizens they serve.

As seasoned workers leave, people inside and outside of state government worry about a loss of institutional experience and memory.

The DNR’s Lathrop, for instance, will be hard, if not impossible, to replace, colleagues say.

“Dick is the ‘go-to’ guy regarding lake issues in Wisconsin,” says Ken Potter of the UW-Madison’s department of civil & environmental engineering. “His early retirement is a great loss to the DNR, the University of Wisconsin and the people of Wisconsin.”

From the stories it sounds like many older workers are retiring because the worry about their ability to maintain benefits they planned to retire on.  Others, also feel pushed to retire because programs they helped develop are being undermined or even dismantled by the Walker administration.  One such program is Family Care, which uses innovative approaches to treatments and nursing care to keep adults out of nursing homes.  The program actually saves the state money, but that hasn’t stopped the Walker administration from proposing an eligibility cap that will force people into costly nursing home care.

If you were a public worker who had spent 20 years building a program to cut down on costs and improve services to Wisconsinites, would you want to stick around and watch it fall apart? In addition, losing people who can properly administer public service programs is just another blow to low-income working families in our community.  To learn more, the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families recently released this damning analysis of the effects that Governor Walker’s proposals will have on working families.

People, when are we ready to say that enough is enough?

 

When I was laid off last week, I experienced a whole range of emotions including fear, shock, confusion, anger, solemnity, relief (that I finally knew I was getting laid off after weeks of uncertainty), resolve, hopefulness, etc.  After a week of adjustment, 30% of me is still pretty panicked about the situation, but 100% of me is thanking the fates I planned ahead for this. Because I knew I was in a position vulnerable to lay off, the bunker-stocking-fatalist in me had been viewing my job loss as inevitable. It was still hard, but other than already having a new job lined up, I’m grateful that with some foresight, I’m in a about as stable of a position as could be possible.

For those of you who do not have a miserable little neurotic living in your skull (lucky you!), here are some ideas and suggestions to consider well before a potential job loss occurs, so that you, too, can be slightly better prepared should the worse case scenario take place.

1. Know that all jobs are vulnerable

If there’s one thing this recession has taught us, it’s that we can no longer bank on a job (or even an industry) being around 5 or 10 years down the road.  As the pace of technological innovation leap frogs over the past, jobs and markets are also evolving to meet our changing demands.  Although experts can take some educated guesses as to the types of jobs that will be in demand in 10 or 20 years (aging baby boomers need nurses, obviously–invest in bed pans!), there is great uncertainty in most predictions.  Jobs that even three or four years ago seemed protected (like public jobs), are now highly vulnerable to budget cuts taking place at nearly every level of government.  Although it’s easy to forget when the economy is humming away, layoffs and unemployment are very real and a  real possibility for every person at some point in their careers.

2. Be as flexible as possible

What about my car payments, mortgage payments, student loan debt, credit card debt? If you already have these concerns, I can’t  help you–I  am no expert on debt issues, because I don’t have any.  I fear debt the way others fear cancer and have made major life decisions so as to avoid incurring debt–i.e. living close to work so I could walk and wouldn’t need a car.  (I should note that I was very fortunate to have parents who supported my undergrad education–so long as I went to a school they approved of and could afford, which I did do because of the aforementioned debilitating fear of debt.)

If you can avoid debt-bringers, even just one form of debt–say credit card debt, you greatly increase your flexibility. This flexibility allows you take jobs in new cities (or countries), or meaningful jobs with lower pay (or internships with no pay) in order to give you the best chance of finding work that you actually want to do.  Chances are not having a car, or a house, or other debt also means that you have more discretionary money from each  paycheck, which also increases the amount you can save over time.

3. Save money

This should be a no-brainer, but it’s worth emphasizing.  If you ever find yourself earning a steady income, live low enough beneath what you are making to save up some emergency funds.  The general rule I learned growing up was to have three months worth of salary in a savings account in case I needed to quit, or was fired from a job.  Given this recession, probably a better rule of thumb would to be to save up as many months of salary as possible–maybe aim for six months at the very least.  Have a goal and build towards it with every paycheck.

An easy way to consistently set money aside is to automatically deposit a percentage of every paycheck directly into your savings account.  When I had an income, my percentage was 20%, which was automatically withdrawn into my savings account each payday–this I did via my electronic bank account.

Once you have your emergency reserve of funding saved, then start looking at other long-term savings goals, such as investing to build up a retirement account.  The point is, after your reach one savings goal, have another one ready.

4. Learn about possible unemployment benefits

When you’re earning money, an easy way to keep costs in perspective is to better understand what actually being unemployed will mean for your finances.  Unemployment benefits vary by state, but all states have a maximum amount that a person can receive per week and a maximum number of weeks that one can receive a benefit.  How much unemployment funding you receive is generally based on what you earned. Maximum unemployment benefits in Wisconsin are about $350 a week.

Depending on your circumstances and where you live, there may also be food stamps or low-cost, or even free, health coverage should you lose your job.  You may also want to price out how much COBRA would cost you (that’s when you keep your work insurance benefit, but pay for it out-of-pocket) and to see if you can afford your COBRA payment on an unemployment check.  If not, price out some other insurance options to see what might be affordable.

Also be aware that getting fired with cause, or quitting, and other circumstances may disqualify you from receiving any unemployment benefits.

5. Have a budget and keep track of what you purchase

Again, this is pretty obvious, but giving yourself a weekly budget may help you prepare for living life on unemployment and will help keep spending habits under control. Last year, an ever dwindling reserve of money in my checking account triggered a panic that my spending habits were ballooning out of control. And they were. At one point I was down to about $20 in my checking account.  Part of the problem was that I was paying for everything on my debit card, which allowed me to make purchases of $50 here, $25 there, all while never really keeping track of any total amount.  I would only check my account every couple of weeks, which was generally well after I had spent hundreds of dollars in smaller purchases.

If this sounds familiar, I strongly suggest trying to only pay for things with cash on hand.  Each week (same day every week), I  take out $100 for all of my purchases (groceries, entertainment, drinks, everything else).  Most weeks I am  able to stay in this budget. Anything I don’t spend, goes to the next week to make things a little easier.    With my unemployment payments, I will likely need to stay around $80 a week in purchases to avoid dipping into my savings.

In a similar vein, some online banking software allows you to track or categorize the types of purchases you make with your debit card.  This allows you to identify problem spending habits (such as eating out too much for your budget). Some banks may have tools embedded into your online banking account to help you track spending; if not, popular financial tracking tools can be found on Mint.com (including apps for your phone).  Because I prefer the cash method, I have not tried this software, but some friends have found it helpful.

6. Spend on priorities

All of this may sound like a bunch a finger wagging from a joyless cheapskate–and it’s true–spending money makes me uncomfortable and I’m sure I’m generally a  boring  person for that reason.  But even the shrillest scolds have a purchasing Achilles heel, and for me it’s traveling.  Since I was a teenager, the majority of  the money I’ve spent has gone into traveling. It’s what I love to do, and more than once, I traveled down to my very last dollar.  Even now, I’m planning a trip to Hawaii that will knock out at least 10% of my savings.

But I know that traveling is and will always be a priority for me above just about every other thing–right up there with friends and food.  I’m sure for many parents  (I am not one) spending on their children occupies the status that traveling has for me.  Maybe for others its living close to family, or working for a specific organization, or spending money on clothing or a hobby or a favorite car or electronics–who knows.  To each his own.

When faced with a limited budget, know your priorities and be willing to cut down on spending on just about everything else.  To me, sacrificing a car and a nicer, larger apartment have always been a fair trade-off in exchange for the budget to travel.   When you can’t have it all, know what you prefer to have and make it so.

7. Take advantage of opportunities

When you are lucky enough to have a job and a steady income you can still develop your resume as if you were about to face unemployment. This might mean taking advantage of training sessions offered at your work, such as advise on updating your resume and cover letter. Also, consider volunteering for a task at work that will force you to learn a new, marketable skill. If you have the time and money, consider taking classes at a nearby technical school to ensure you’re still up to date on the latest technology in your field.

Also, because few jobs are forever, it certainly doesn’t hurt to look for jobs when you’re employed.  Even if you love what you do, job hunting can help you be aware of the job market and what employers are looking for in your field.  If you had to reapply for your job now, are your skills up-to-date enough for you to be a top candidate?  Also, some markets hire at a very s l o w pace.  Currently, one of my best prospects for a job is one that I applied to over a year ago.  Feeling out a market can help you get a sense of the timing and tools you’ll need to be competitive should you ever find yourself out of work.