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Wisconsin Republicans are fighting to take food aid away from 240,000 families

By overturning Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency health orders, the Legislature could cost the state $49 million in federal food assistance.

By Josh Israel - January 28, 2021
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Republican

Republican legislators in Wisconsin are pushing to overturn Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ pandemic emergency orders. If they succeed, Wisconsinites living in poverty could lose millions in federal food assistance.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that last year’s federal coronavirus relief legislation offered states extra supplemental nutritional funds if they have emergency health orders in place. For Wisconsin, that aid amounts to $49.3 million for more than 240,000 households.

Evers has issued a series of emergency public health orders that include requiring face masks in public places to curb the pandemic’s spread. The Republican majorities in the state legislature have opposed his efforts, and the state Senate voted on Tuesday to overturn his emergency order entirely. The state Assembly is expected to vote on it on Thursday. The governor has no authority to veto it if the measure passes in both chambers.

Democratic state Rep. Evan Goyke said that Republicans did not appear to even realize that their efforts to overturn public safety rules would cost their constituents tens of millions of dollars in federal food funds. “If you’re asking me should a lawmaker know whether their resolution takes $49 million of benefits away from a quarter million Wisconsinites? Yes, they should know that. And if they don’t, they shouldn’t be in public office,” he told the Journal Sentinel.

State Republicans say that they do not believe the governor should be able to unilaterally order mask use and that he only wants to make them look bad.

“It’s a gotcha thing,” state Sen. Kathy Bernier complained earlier this week. “The governor wants to put it out as a mandate in order to get the reaction out of the Republican Legislature to be anti-maskers. In fact, it’s not about the mask mandate, it’s about his authority to pass a mask mandate and to re-create an emergency.”

Wisconsin Republicans are not alone in their efforts to block virus safety efforts.

GOP lawmakers in several other states have sought by legislation and litigation to overturn health safety orders issued by state governors — even as the virus has continued to spread and numbers of cases and deaths have spiked nationally.

Ohio Republican legislators are even considering a bill to overrule public health emergency orders issued by their Republican governor, Mike DeWine.

As Wisconsin Republicans rush to imperil food stamp funds, the nation has seen a huge increase in rates of poverty and hunger due to the pandemic. A Department of Commerce report released on Thursday said the U.S. economy contracted by 3.5% last year. Millions of Americans have fallen into poverty as a result.

Wisconsin has had more than 585,000 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic last year and more than 6,300 related deaths.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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