Report: Wisconsin’s Billionaires Got $11.1B Richer During the Pandemic

   

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 9, 2021
Contact: Robert Kraig, [email protected], (414) 322-5324

Wisconsin Billionaires Got $11.1 Billion Richer Over First 10 Months of Pandemic, Their Collective Wealth Jumping By 28%

Gains of 8 Richest Residents Could Cover $2 Billion State Deficit Predicted by Outside Analysts 5 Times Over & Still Leave Billionaires Richer Than They Were Before COVID

 

Milwaukee, WI —The collective wealth of Wisconsin’s 8 billionaires jumped by $11.1 billion, or 28%, between mid-March of last year and January 29, 2021, according to a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN), Citizen Action of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans. The $11.1 billion in pandemic profits of the state’s richest residents could cover five times over a two-year state budget deficit of up to $2 billion projected by an independent monitoring group, and still leave the billionaires wealthier than  they were when the pandemic hit 10 months ago.

Between March 18, 2020 —the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were put in place—and January 29, 2021, the total net worth of Wisconsin billionaires rose from $39.4 billion to $50.5 billion, based on this analysis of Forbes data, and also shown in the table below.[1]

The private gain of Wisconsin billionaires contrasts sharply with the health and economic struggles that average Wisconsinites are facing because of the pandemic. Over those same tough 10 months, over half a millionWisconsinites fell ill with the coronavirus and over 6,000 died from it. And 1,170,172 workers lost jobs in the accompanying recession.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum projects that state spending will exceed revenue by nearly $400 million over the next two years, without taking into effect growing needs for existing services. When anticipated increases in funding for Medicaid, education and other services are considered, the group estimates the budget gap could exceed $2 billion.

While federal lawmakers debate more cash payments to people and families in the next relief package, the state’s 8 billionaires have amassed enough new wealth during the pandemic, a  $11.1 billion leap, to send every one of Wisconsin’s 5,822,434 residents a relief check of roughly $1,901 each. A family of four would get $7,603.

Sources: All data is from Forbes and available here.
March 18, 2020, data is from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List: The Richest in 2020.
Jan. 29, 2021 data was taken from Forbes real-time estimates of wealth that day.

Nationwide over the same 10-month period, the total wealth of the nation’s 661 billionaires leaped by $1.2 trillion, or 40%—more than the $900 billion federal pandemic relief package enacted in Congress in December. Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson was one of just six U.S. senators to vote against the bill, complaining that its relief checks for working families were too costly.

At $4.1 trillion, the total wealth of America’s 661 billionaires is two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million Americans.

Sen. Johnson has also expressed reservations with President Biden’s new $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan, again citing cost. Biden’s plan would provide $350 billion in general aid to state and local governments to preserve jobs and critical public services plus $170 billion to help schools reopen and support public colleges.

As Wisconsin billionaires ride out the crisis on a rising tide of wealth, the state’s working families struggle to keep their heads above water:

  • 107,132 state residents were collecting unemployment the week ended Jan. 9 [S. Department of Labor]
  • Between March and September 2020, 1,676 state businesses closed, 928 of them permanently. [YELP]
  • Late last year, 360,000 adult state residents, or 9%, reported going hungry over the past week. The figure for households with children was 12%. [Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, CBPP, Table 1]
  • 13% of the state’s tenants—158,000—were behind in their rent at the end of 2020. [CBPP, Table 3]

Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities. Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and to die from the disease. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.

Here’s a sampling of some of the state’s prospering billionaires, all in the construction and home improvement industry:

  • Plumbing-fixtures scion Herbert Kohler, Jr., of the company and town that bear his family’s name, enjoyed a nearly 41% leap in his fortune, which rose by $2.4 billion to $8.3 billion.
  • The wealth of Eau Claire home improvement retailer John Menard, Jr., increased by almost a quarter, jumping $2.7 billion to $14.2 billion.
  • Afton building-supply wholesaler and big GOP donor Diane Hendricks experienced a 15% bump in her net worth, up over $1 billion to nearly $8 billion.

“As Wisconsin heads into our biennial budget process, the contrast is stark between the massive wealth growth of these billionaires and the projected State budget revenue shortfalls that endanger the State’s ability to fund essential services,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “No matter where we live or what we look like, all Wisconsinites deserve to live healthy and safe lives. We must stand together and demand that our elected leaders at the state and federal levels protect and invest in us, not the wealthy few who have already provided so greatly during this horrific pandemic.”

“Wisconsin’s seniors have borne a huge, devastating burden in this pandemic,” said Alex Brower, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans. “Older adults have lost their lives, been forced into isolation and loneliness, and lived in fear. Meanwhile, our state’s billionaires have profited massively. Wisconsin’s seniors deserve to live in a society that prioritizes older adults’ lives over the wealth of an elite few, starting with Congress passing real COVID relief legislation that addresses the needs of older Americans.”

“Billionaires have been reaping bushels of pandemic profits the last 10 months while many working families are reeling, state and local services are suffering and jobs are disappearing,” said Frank Clemente, Executive Director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “Congress needs to come to the immediate rescue to get the country out of this mess. And then it should turn its attention to enacting sweeping reforms that make the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share of taxes so we can create an economy that works for all of us.”

“Republicans in the Senate keep trying to pare down the $1.9 trillion Biden pandemic relief plan that would save jobs and services in states and provide millions of people healthcare, unemployment protection, paid leave with excuses about targeting support to those who need it most,” said Margarida Jorge, Executive Director, Health Care for America Now. “But those excuses are more hollow than ever in a pandemic where billionaires are getting richer as everyone else struggles. The Republicans certainly weren’t worried about targeting the neediest when they passed their $1.9 trillion tax law back in 2017. That law gave away billions to the rich and corporations while leaving the middle class and working people behind.”

Some billionaires have seen a particularly astonishing increase in wealth:

  • Elon Musk’s wealth grew by over $156 billion, from $24.6 billion on March 18 to $181 billion on Jan. 29, a more than six-fold increase, boosted by his Tesla
  • Jeff Bezos’s wealth grew from $113 billion on March 18 to $186 billion, an increase of 67%. Adding in his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott’s wealth of $57 billion on Jan. 29, the two had a combined wealth of almost a quarter of a trillion dollars thanks to their Amazon stock.
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth grew from $54.7 billion on March 18 to $97 billion, an increase of over two-thirds (77%) fueled by his Facebook

President Biden’s “build back better” tax and investment plans could address immediate needs created by the pandemic and put the nation on a trajectory toward economic growth that restores the middle class, good jobs, healthcare and equitable opportunity for everyone to prosper. Even Wall Street analysts praise the plan because of the jobs and growth it would create.

A key component is tax reform that would begin to ensure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share. Biden’s tax plan would transform huge billionaire gains into public revenue to help heal a hurting nation by both raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes that allow the rich to delay, diminish and even avoid paying the taxes they owe on wealth increases. President Biden and the new Congress could make structural changes to level the playing field so that the rich are taxed more like the rest of us.

A number of approaches will be debated in Congress, including  an annual wealth tax on the biggest fortunes, proposed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Another option is the annual taxation of investment gains on stocks and other tradable assets, an idea advanced by the new Senate Finance Committee chair, Ron Wyden. Even under the current discounted tax rates for investment income, if Wyden’s plan had been in effect in 2020, Wisconsin billionaires would be paying billions of dollars in extra taxes this spring thanks to their gargantuan pandemic profits last year, helping to address the pandemic’s impact and keep the economy afloat.

[1]March 18 was also the date that Forbes picked to measure billionaire wealth for the 2020 edition of its annual billionaires report, which provided a baseline that ATF and IPS compare periodically with real-time data from the Forbes website. Politifact has favorably reviewed this methodology.

 

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Statement: Trump’s Stacked Supreme Court Could Overturn ACA Coverage and Pre-Existing Condition Protections for Millions of Wisconsinites

For Immediate Release: November 10, 2020
Contacts: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

 

Statement: Trump’s Stacked Supreme Court Could Overturn ACA Coverage and Pre-Existing Condition Protections for Millions of Wisconsinites

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Urges Justices to Put Partisan Politics Aside and Uphold the Law

Milwaukee, WI – Statement in response to the Supreme Court’s hearing of the California v. Texas lawsuit to determine the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act Citizen Action of Wisconsin released the following statement:  

“COVID cases are surging in Wisconsin to new levels, setting new records for infection and putting Wisconsinites’ lives at risk. During the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes, we need more and better health care for all people, not less. And yet, during this global pandemic, the United States is taking up the Trump and Republican backed California v. Texas lawsuit that threatens to take health care away from millions of Americans.

Rather than protect and expand health care or lower drug prices, President Trump spent four years trying to repeal the ACA, weaken Medicaid and Medicare, and breaking his promises about lowering drug prices. In the last month before the election, his top priority was not COVID relief and recovery, but instead he focused on packing the Supreme Court with another right wing judge that opposes the ACA. 

In defiance of past precedence, the legal opinions of experts across the political spectrum who argue that this case has no merit, and the harmful impact of overturning coverage for over 20 million people as well as pre-existing condition protections for 135 million more, this court could refuse to uphold the ACA. That decision would have dire consequences for Wisconsinites. Experts estimate that 153,000 Wisconsinites could lose coverage, including 41,000 young adults on their parents’ coverage and 28,000 children. Furthermore, without the Affordable Care Act, between 883,000 and 2.4 million Wisconsinites with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage or be discriminated against and face much higher costs.

While millions of Americans would lose coverage and protections, the wealthy few and large corporations would receive massive tax breaks. Prescription drug corporations would receive a massive tax break from the repeal amounting to $2.8 billion annually and the richest households in Wisconsin would collectively receive $420 million in tax breaks.

For the sake of our democracy and our health, the Supreme Court must uphold the ACA as the law of the land and put aside partisan politics to act as a neutral arbiter in this case. The justices must prioritize sound legal judgement and the well-being of the nation over President Trump’s anti-health care legacy.” 

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Report: Wisconsin Billionaires’ Net Worths Jump $11 Billion or 28% Since Pandemic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Oct. 22, 2020

Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

Wisconsin Billionaires’ Net Worths Jump $11 Billion or 28% – Five Times More than State’s $2 Billion Revenue Shortfall – Since Pandemic

Meanwhile state & local government services face deep cuts as Congress prioritizes confirmation of anti-ACA Supreme Court Justice over Coronavirus relief

MILWAUKEE, WI: Wisconsin has 8 billionaires whose collective wealth has jumped by $11 billion, or 27.9%, since mid-March, roughly the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the state’s economy was reeling from a huge spike in joblessness and a collapse in taxes collected, according to a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN), Citizen Action of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans.

Despite growing needs and economic hardship caused by the pandemic, President Trump and U.S. Senate Republicans have refused to pass another financial aid package to help working families and to maintain state and local public services. Instead, they have opted to focus on expediting the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice before the election.

The $11 billion increase in wealth of the state’s billionaires over the last 7 months is five times more than the $2 billion state revenue shortfall in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. The table below shows how the state’s billionaires’ wealth has climbed during the pandemic.

Between March 18—the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were put in place—and Oct. 13, the total net worth of the state’s  billionaires rose from $39.4 billion to $50.4 billion, based on this analysis of Forbes data. Forbes’ annual billionaires report was published March 18, 2020, and the real-time data was collected Oct. 13 from the Forbes website.

Needless to say, ordinary workers did not fare as well. From mid-March to mid-September, the collective work income of rank-and-file private-sector employees—all hours worked times the hourly wages of the entire bottom 82% of the workforce—declined by 3.5%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics national data.

While here in Wisconsin and nationally:

  • in Wisconsin 182,651 fell ill with the virus, including 1,681 who died from it (as of 10/21/2020) [Wisconsin Department of Health Services]
  • In Wisconsin, 931,641 lost their jobs between March 21 and Sept. 26, 2020 [U.S. Department of Labor]
  • In Wisconsin, 119,104 were collecting unemployment on Sept. 26, 2020 [U.S. Department of Labor]
  • In Wisconsin, 928 businesses closed [MSN Money]
  • Nationally, 22 million adults reported not having enough food in the past week between September 2-28, including 14 million with children in the household. Eight percent of adults and 11% of adults living with children reported not having enough to eat. [Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, CBPP]
  • Nationally, 1 in 6 renters reported being behind on September rent payments, including 12% of Wisconsin renters. [CBPP]

Sources: All data is from Forbes and available here.
March 18, 2020, data is from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List: The Richest in 2020.
Oct. 13, 2020 data was taken from Forbes real-time estimates of wealth that day.

Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities. Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and to die from the disease. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.

The total net worth of the nation’s 644 billionaires has risen by $931 billion, or nearly 32%, since March 18—from $2.95 trillion to $3.88 trillion (see spreadsheet of all billionaires).

“The wealth of the country’s nearly 650 billionaires keeps rising higher and higher, as the livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans keeps sinking lower from the failure of Washington to provide a new COVID-19 rescue package,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had put his energy into rushing through Congress a major coronavirus financial aid package months ago, like he’s rushing through this Supreme Court nomination, millions of Americans would have been spared financial hardship and countless small businesses would still be standing.”

“The rich are getting richer while the rest of the nation is struggling to overcome the health and economic impacts of the worst public health crisis we’ve seen in decades,” said Margarida Jorge, Executive Director of Health Care for America Now. “Yet rather than pass COVID relief and other legislation that would increase income, health care access and other basic supports for struggling families and small businesses, President Trump and Republicans in Congress are prioritizing their partisan grudge against the Affordable Care Act. A vote to pack the court with Trump’s anti-ACA Supreme Court nominee before the election equals a vote to take healthcare and pre-existing conditions protections away from millions after it.”

“Federal lawmakers should be prioritizing the COVID relief policies that increase access and affordability of health care, especially now as the disease surges in our state putting more Wisconsin families at risk,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Yet time and time again, we’ve seen President Trump and the Republicans in the Senate put their politics ahead our health care whether it comes to COVID relief, lowering drug prices, or protecting coverage and pre-existing conditions protections for millions who depend on the Affordable Care Act.”

Some billionaires have seen a particularly astonishing increase in wealth:

  • Jeff Bezos’s wealth grew from $113 billion on March 18 to $203 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of 80%.
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth grew from $54.7 billion on March 18 to $101 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of  85%.
  • Elon Musk’s wealth grew from $24.6 billion on March 18 to $92.8 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of 277%.

The total wealth of all U.S. billionaires—$3.88 trillion today—is two-and-a-half times the $1.5 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, or 165 million Americans.

The $931 billion wealth gain by billionaires since mid-March:

Without a federal fiscal relief package, workers will face even greater loss of jobs and services than has already occurred. The Economic Policy Institute predicts that in Wisconsin 99,200 public-sector jobs employing teachers, public safety workers and health care workers, will be lost by the end of 2021 without more federal aid.

Even as the number of people without jobs and healthcare continues to rise, President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell continue to reject meaningful relief, opting instead to prioritize rushing the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent death.

The rushed confirmation of Barrett, a judge who is on the record opposing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), increases the likelihood that millions will lose healthcare and consumer protections for pre-existing conditions after the November elections, when the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear California v. Texas, the Trump-backed lawsuit to overturn the ACA.

Supreme Court repeal of the ACA could take health coverage away from 224,000 people in Wisconsin, according to the Center for American Progress. It could also eliminate protections for 883,000 with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or alcohol or drug addiction, who could be denied coverage without the law, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s 25% of the state’s non-elderly population. At the same time that millions would lose coverage and protections, repealing the ACA would heap more wealth onto rich households and prescription drug corporations that already comprise the most profitable industry in the nation.

Repealing the ACA would give wealthy households making at least $3 million a year a $198,000 annual tax break, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Households making $1 million a year would get a $42,000 tax break. Prescription drug corporations would receive an additional $2.8 billion annually in tax breaks while seniors would face higher drug costs because of the roll back of ACA provisions that closed the Medicare Part D coverage gap.

The ACA has saved more than 11.8 million Medicare beneficiaries over $26.8 billion on prescription drugs – an average of $2,272 per beneficiary, between 2010 and 2016, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In Wisconsin, 86,264 seniors each saved an average of $1,129 in just one year thanks to the ACA (2016 is the most recent year available). Currently, the price of prescription drugs is rising faster than any other medical good or service.

“President Trump has promised over and over again to lower drug prices for seniors, but instead has offered lip service, half-measures and gimmicks like discount cards that are paid for by weakening the Medicare Trust Fund,” said Alex Brower, Executive Director of the Wisconsin

Alliance for Retired Americans. “Trump isn’t fooling anyone and now, as COVID is raging and lives are at stake, it’s time for him to stop playing politics and pass long overdue COVID relief and policies that would finally stop drug corporations from price-gouging us on everything from insulin to high blood pressure medicines.”

 

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Citizen Action of Wisconsin Applauds La Crosse County Board Approval of Resolution Supporting Universal Healthcare

For Immediate Release: July 16, 2020
Contact: Ben Wilson, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, [email protected]

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Applauds La Crosse County Board Approval of Resolution Supporting Universal Healthcare

La Crosse County Joins Over 70 Community Resolutions in Demanding Guaranteed Health Care for All

La Crosse, Wis. – Citizen Action of Wisconsin and La Crosse County residents today applauds the County Board of Supervisors for approving a resolution calling on Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Tammy Baldwin, and Representative Ron Kind to work toward the immediate implementation of universal health care.  Current legislation for universal health includes the Medicare for All Act of 2019, H.R. 1384 / S. 1129.

The resolution is one of more than a dozen that have been passed in 2020. The effort is being organized by numerous local, state, and national organizations and elected officials, including Citizens Action of Wisconsin, the Coulee DSA, Public Citizen, and Our Wisconsin Revolution.

“This pandemic should especially open our eyes and spotlight the systemic inequities at the root of our healthcare system that wrongly treats health care as a privilege rather than a human right,” said 4th District Supervisor Freedland.

County Board Chairperson and Citizen Action of Wisconsin member Monica Kruse stated, “Our voices will join those of the many other counties across Wisconsin and throughout the nation demanding a more equitable, more efficient and more inclusive healthcare system.”

“Single payer, publicly funded, national healthcare insurance is the most economical and most equitable way to achieve full healthcare services for all people,” agrees Citizen Action of Wisconsin Driftless Co-op member Mark Neumann.

The Medicare for All Act of 2019 would guarantee comprehensive health care coverage for all Americans and would eliminate co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs that are keeping needed health care out of reach for residents of La Crosse County.

Information about Medicare-for-All and the growing demand for Congress to pass Medicare-for-All can be found at medicare4allresolutions.org and medicare4all.org.

 

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Report: 8 Billionaires in Wisconsin See Net Worth Jump $14.2 Billion or 36.1% in First Three Months of COVID-19 Pandemic

Report: 8 Billionaires in Wisconsin See Net Worth Jump $14.2 Billion or 36.1% in First Three Months of COVID-19 Pandemic

 Meanwhile Wisconsinites, State & Local Governments Face Financial Hardship as Congress Stalls on New COVID-19 Financial Aid Package

MILWAUKEE—Wisconsin has 8 billionaires who collectively saw their wealth increase by $14.2 billion or 36.1% during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic even as the state’s economy was reeling from a huge spike in joblessness and a collapse in taxes collected, a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and Citizen Action of Wisconsin shows.

Between March 18—the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were in place—and June 17, the total net worth of the state’s eight billionaires rose from $39.4 billion to $53.6 billion, based on an analysis of Forbes data. Forbes’ annual billionaires report was published March 18, 2020, and the most recent real-time data was collected June 17 from the Forbes website.

Three Wisconsin billionaires—John Menard, Jr., Diane Hendricks and Herbert Kohler, Jr.—saw their wealth grow by 65%, 39% and 29%, respectively. During about the same period of the pandemic 629,000 of the state’s residents lost their jobs, 26,000 fell ill with the virus and 700 died from it.

Sources: All data is from Forbes and available here.
March 18, 2020, data is from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List: The Richest in 2020.
June 17, 2020 data was taken from Forbes real-time estimates of worth that day.

 

Among other COVID-19 victims are the 27 million Americans who may lose their employer-provided healthcare coverage. Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.

Over the same three-month period, the nation’s 600-plus billionaires saw their combined wealth increase by $584 billion or 20%—rising from $2.948 trillion to $3.531 trillion, based on ATF’s analysis of Forbes data. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve reported that as of the week of June 10, total U.S. household wealth had shrunk by $6.5 trillion during the first three months of the pandemic.

The three richest Americans, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, saw their combined wealth jump by $87 billion, or 38%, 11% and 58%, respectively. The total number of billionaires grew from 614 to 643.

“Now is the time for Wisconsinites to unite across our differences and demand our government leaders make decisions that help every-day people like us—not the richest 1% and a handful of corporations who are profiting from this pandemic,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “As individuals, we can wash our hands, avoid unnecessary travel, and check in on our friends and neighbors. As a united force, we can demand our local, state, and national governments do everything possible to protect everyone’s health and financial stability, no exceptions.”

“It’s immoral that billionaires are getting richer and richer while average Americans are treading water if they are lucky, or drowning, from the economic crash caused by the pandemic,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “Congress needs to urgently provide a major new financial aid package to ensure working families can recover and critical state and local services can keep being provided. The package should repeal the huge tax break for millionaires in the first major financial aid law and block any new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.”

“In the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes, billionaires are getting richer while millions are losing coverage or have no access to affordable health care,” said Margarida Jorge, executive director of Health Care for America Now. Rather than pass the relief measures that we all need to beat COVID, Congress is letting families, workers, seniors and many others go without the health care they need to survive, letting health care workers go without protective equipment and forcing hospitals to face unprecedented shortages in beds, ventilators and medicines. It’s obvious there’s plenty of money—the problem here is Congress’ priorities.”

Decades of tax cuts for the rich have fueled the growth of billionaires and their wealth. And even in the midst of the greatest national emergency since World War II, tax handouts to the wealthy have continued—most recently in the form of a $135 billion handout slipped into the $2 trillion CARES pandemic relief law enacted in late March. It primarily benefits millionaire business owners and costs three times more than the law spends on social safety net programs and exceeds the amount expended on hospitals and public health.

The House HEROES Act passed in May would repeal this tax break that is giving an average tax cut of $1.6 million this year to 43,000 millionaires and billionaires, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). That big payout contrasts sharply with the one-time stimulus checks of up to $1,200 that have helped 159 million people under the CARES Act. Closing this tax loophole and making it permanent would raise $246 billion per the JCT, which could be used for a new major pandemic financial relief and recovery package.

As the U.S. Senate begins consideration of the next coronavirus aid legislation, a broad coalition of more than 230 organizations, including some Wisconsin groups, is urging repeal of the Millionaires Giveaway tax cut for wealthy business owners. So far, 24 senators support repeal legislation (S. 3640), including Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), but not Sen. Ron Johnson (R).

Rather than respond to growing needs from increasing numbers of unemployed people, new patients, and overburdened local and state agencies, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been slow-walking legislative action on another major relief measure such as the HEROES Act, especially one that would provide a major cash infusion to state and local governments that have lost huge amounts of tax revenue but must by law balance their budgets. Instead, McConnell has suggested that states file for bankruptcy.

The HEROES Act would greatly benefit Wisconsin during this economic crisis by providing immediate relief and laying the groundwork for a more robust economic recovery, including:

All of the above data is available in one table here.

State residents will also get their fair share of the following other assistance provided by the HEROES Act should it become law:

  • Extension through the end of the year of the $600 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits that are expiring at the end of July.
  • Renewal and increase in direct assistance checks to individuals and families: $1,200 per each adult and child, up to $6,000 per household.
  • $100 billion to protect renters and homeowners from evictions and foreclosures.

Increased support from the federal government directly to states through these provisions is the best way to avoid state cuts to jobs and services that would worsen the impact of the pandemic and prolong the recession the country is experiencing.

Economists warn that delayed action on more funding to states, unemployment benefits, and safety net services will have dire consequences for recovery, could lengthen and deepen the recession and curtail job growth for the next decade. Moreover, coronavirus cases are back on the rise in over two dozen states, including Wisconsin, where the re-opening process has increased risk of exposure thereby further jeopardizing the economy. Wisconsin Department of Health Services data confirms that the state’s 7-day average of new confirmed cases has steadily increased since mid-June.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has cited rising deficits in delaying immediate consideration of new pandemic relief legislation, but so far has not proposed rolling back the $135 billion Millionaires Giveaway in the CARES Act. Rather, McConnell’s key priority for the next relief package has been to provide legal immunity to employers by limiting workers’ rights in court to sue bosses who put their safety at risk or neglect COVID protocols.

Polling shows that half of Americans have been personally economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — losing their job or having their hours cut back. Congress must provide help by working with local and state elected officials and agencies to ensure workers, families and small businesses get the resources they need to make it through the pandemic and mitigate the harmful consequences of the economic slow-down.

State residents cannot afford excuses from Congressional leaders who prioritize tax giveaways for the rich and corporations over the basic needs of average people or more delays that will double down on prolonged pain for millions.

 

Media Contacts:

Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig, Executive Director, 414-322-5324, [email protected]

Americans for Tax Fairness, Chris Fleming, Red Horse Strategies, 202-631-0929 [email protected]

Health Care for America Now, Margarida Jorge, Executive Director, [email protected]

Health Professionals Speak Out Against Social Distancing Protests

For Immediate Release: April 24, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, [email protected]
Claire Zautke, (414) 940-3375, c[email protected]

Health Professionals Speak Out Against Social Distancing Protests

In video statements recorded this morning, health professionals explain why the the Governor’s Safer at Home order is an essential measure for containing COVID-19, creating conditions to gradually and safely reopen the economy 

Statewide: This morning before scheduled State Capitol protests against Wisconsin’s most effective COVID-19 containment measure, public health professionals taped brief video interviews to discuss the situation. These dedicated caregivers hope by offering this testimony to counteract the disinformation being spread through social media and irresponsible national media outlets to mobilize opposition to social distancing. The health professionals explained why maintaining social distancing is essential for saving lives, protecting front line caregivers and other essential workers, and slowing the virus enough to safely reopen the economy. 

Elizabeth Riley: Elizabeth is a nurse who recently returned to Wisconsin after spending several weeks working in a Brooklyn, NYC Intensive Care Unit. She describes the horror of the ICU, the horrible and lonely deaths of her patients, and her dread that Wisconsin could become like New York City if the Safer At Home order were lifted. //youtu.be/JWa55RJtvBU

Jeff Weber: Jeff is the President of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. He worries about Wisconsin hospitals’ capacity being overrun with a surge of COVID-19 cases resulting from these protests and premature lifting of the Safer At Home order. He states we need two weeks of sustained decline in new cases before lifting the order.  //youtu.be/dogIXdYMIe8

Lynn Carey: Lynn is a nurse, educator, and PhD as well as a double lung transplant recipient. Her advice for beating this virus: “stay home!” //youtu.be/rKsyDBi8uU4

Victoria Gutierrez: Victoria is a frontline nurse in Madison. She is concerned that the capitol protest will cause an increase in COVID-19 cases and put strain on the already short supply of personal protective gear used by nurses. //youtu.be/93sxJ5vxfOA

Mary Milton: Mary is a frontline nurse in Milwaukee. She monitors the protective gear used by her hospital’s workers. She says she has “never seen such suffering” as that of her COVID-19 patients. //youtu.be/QXDgiTlHOFs

Emily Siegrist: Emily is a nurse and nurse educator from the Milwaukee area. She is worried about the lack of support for frontline health care professionals and that protesters today will not take protective measures. //youtu.be/Oy9S_E0kRDQ

“Front line health professionals, many of whom are risking their own health treating the victims of COVID-19, are urging the people of Wisconsin to maintain social distancing as the best way to contain this deadly pandemic,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “If we are going to pull together and meet this challenge, we need to start listening to the scientists and the front-line caregivers, not the cynical politicians and billionaires seeking to exploit the crisis for their own purposes.”

For more detail on Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 policy proposals, see our March news release and memo to the Governor, and a recent column.

 

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Legislative Action on COVID-19 Grossly Inadequate

For Immediate Release: April 15, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324 [email protected]

Legislative Action on COVID-19 Grossly Inadequate

Without free testing and treatment, Wisconsin will not slow down the transmission of the virus, or allow safe reopening of economy 

Statewide: With the slow and uncoordinated federal response to the coronavirus pandemic paralyzing the country, the burden of leadership has fallen on state governments. Many states are stepping up to the task, and filling in as many gaps which should have been covered by the federal government as possible.

But legislative Republicans are blocking the emergency actions Wisconsin must take to slow the pandemic. This leadership malpractice will cost lives, and likely increase already appalling racial disparities in who dies during the pandemic. It will also move back the timeline for when Wisconites can safely go back to work, setting up a terrible choice between lives and economic livelihoods.

Of the many critical actions needed from the state government, Citizen Action of Wisconsin has focused on the need for free COVID-19 testing and treatment. Unless we remove the cost barriers to identify and treat the virus, we will never do the level of contact tracing and virus isolation that is needed to save lives and safely reopen the economy.

The Republicans in the Legislature this week blocked the advances towards free testing and treatment proposed by Governor Evers. The plan that passed the Assembly on Tuesday and the Senate early this afternoon does not include a mandate of free COVID-19 treatment for private health plans, which can average $10,000 to $20,000 dollars, more if the patient needs intensive care. It also fails to give the Governor the flexibility to fully leverage BadgerCare to expand health coverage during the emergency to uninsured Wisconsinites. In addition, the plan does not limit the cancellation of health coverage during the pandemic, which will increase the ranks of the uninsured. It also leaves in place insurance deductibles for testing, creating a dangerous barrier to finding out who in Wisconsin is infected.

In a pandemic, the fear of financially crippling medical bills is a grave risk to the entire community because it discourages people from seeking care. A survey by Citizen Action and the Healthcare Value Hub found that nearly half of Wisconsinites have gone without needed medical care because of fear of the cost in the last year. A national study by the Commonwealth Fund found that 68% of Americans consider copays and deductibles important in determining whether or not they will seek COVID 19 treatment.

The overwhelming cost of health care, which is dangerous in normal times, is absolutely deadly during a pandemic because it is a barrier to universal testing and treatment needed to contain and isolate the virus. This is the only way to identify everyone who has been infected, and interrupt the deadly chains of disease transmission. The disparity in access to health care is one of the drivers of the appalling racial disparities in who is contracting the virus and who is dying.

There is an overwhelming consensus among public health experts that we must have a massive testing and treatment program to contain this virus and to begin to reopen the economy. We need to start by testing and treating everyone with symptoms, and do contact tracing to isolate those who are infected. This must include testing community-wide to identify seemingly healthy people spreading the virus.

“In a major crisis when lives and livelihoods are at stake, it is critical that elected leaders step up to the scale of the challenge, said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “It is deeply disturbing that Wisconsin Republicans have decided to hamstring Governor Evers, and depend on a federal admininstion which has already shown itself unable to rise to the task.”  We need immediate emergency health care and economic policies which address the gravity of the situation, Kraig continued. “The COVID-19 pandemic focuses us on the reality that we are all interconnected, and that leaving people out of our healthcare system risks the lives of everyone in the community,”

For more detail on Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 policy proposals, see our March news release and memo to the Governor, and a column in early April.

 

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Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s Memo re: COVID-19 to Governor Evers

MEMORANDUM 

To: Governor Tony Evers Administration
From: Robert Kraig

RE: Brief Memo on COVID-19 Emergency Response Related to BadgerCare and Private Health Coverage
Date: March 21, 2020

On a Health Matters coalition call earlier this week, Jamie Kuhn, the Governor’s Outreach Director, requested from health advocates short bullet points on actionable policy proposals. 

Citizen Action of Wisconsin put out a press release on important policy options on Friday, based on the information available to us at the time.  As your administration is in much better position to have the latest information, and has the full expertice of state government to draw on, I am going to just distill our policy proposals, minus the public explanations and framing necessary for a news release.

The Governor is correct to strongly urge social distancing to slow down and contain the spread of COVID-19. Given the testing failure, however, many are already infected and the disease is in its incubation period, silently infecting many friends, coworkers, and family members. Some with symptoms are not seeking treatment due to fear of crippling health care costs. It is vital public safety to remove all cost barriers to testing and treatment. Statewide opinion research we released last week with the help of the Health Value Hub and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that the fear of unaffordable costs deterred almost half of Wisconsinites from seeking needed medical care and treatment in the last year. Given the testing backlog this means making it clear through immediate policy change that both testing and treatment will be cost free with no out of pocket costs. When testing is available more widely, national and international experts think we will need to move to community-wide testing. This will also require a guarantee of no cost sharing for testing or treatment to induce younger and healthier people to seek testing even if they feel well. 

Citizen Action’s policies we propose are:

  1. Wisconsin has the authority to propose emergency waivers to the federal government, which can be approved within days of submission by CMS under federal emergency rules. A number of states have already proposed waivers and received approval. These waivers, if used to the full extent of the precedent set in previous national emergencies,  can make it much easier to enroll in BadgerCare and to retain it, including online and phone enrollment, extension of renewal deadlines, suspension of cancellations, and elimination of barriers such as premiums, copays, work requirements, and many other administrative hurdles and barriers. Critically, Wisconsin could adopt a “presumptive eligibility” policy that allows medical providers, community health centers, and others to enroll people in BadgerCare without any income test if they appear eligible. This is especially helpful in an environment where there are mass layoffs and it would be time consuming to confirm that a family was eligible when unemployment insurance claims are likely to overwhelm the state’s processing capacity. The Coronavirus Relief Act which passed Congress this week increases the federal share of Medicaid costs in Wisconsin to 65.5%, offsetting part of the state cost for expanding BadgerCare enrollment.
  2. The massive level of cost sharing in most private health insurance plans also deters people from seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment, endangering public health. A number of states already mandated that health insurance plans cover COVID-19 testing and treatment with no consumer cost sharing. So far, OCI has only recommended that insurers suspend copays and deductibles. It would be prudent for Wisconsin to actually ban cost sharing as a danger to public health, as according to Kaiser 3 states have done (as of Friday) for all testing and treatment and any future vaccine, and 10 states have done for all testing and a future vaccine. If this creates too much of a burden on health insurance and self-insured plans, Wisconsin could also outlaw hospital price gouging by requiring them to accept Medicare rates (or some percentage such as 150% of those rates) for all treatment for any condition that results from a COVID-19 test. There is no justification for hospitals and medical providers to charge unreasonable prices for their services during this state and national emergency. Most independent  Health care experts believe that negotiated private insurance rates in the U.S. are the most expensive in the world, and are not justified.
  3. Wisconsin should immediately expand BadgerCare by accepting the Medicaid Expansion authorized and funded by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Without ACA Medicaid Expansion, “presumptive eligibility” will not work for many adults who do not fit into specific Medicaid eligible categories and are (or appear to be) above the federal poverty line. In addition, as Wisconsin is losing $340 million in the current state budget because it turned down the ACA Medicaid expansion funding, this revenue could immediately be deployed in the fight to contain COVID-19. Accepting Medicaid Expansion would allow Wisconsin to use presumptive eligibility to get the state close to universal health coverage and to reassure the public that cost should not deter them from seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment. It would also defray some and perhaps all of the state’s costs for increased enrollment resulting from all of the emergency measures we propose.
  4. Wisconsin should follow the State of Washington in seeking a waiver to expand Medicaid eligibility well above the ACA Medicaid expansion level of 138% of Federal Poverty Level. Citizen Action urges you to consider this for all of the reasons stated above, especially the effective use of presumptive eligibility to cover as many Wisconsinites as possible. Private insurance, unless you can effectively ban all cost sharing, cancellations and renewal requirements, is inappropriate for people who have little or no financial margin. Also it will be much harder to enroll people in private insurance than a streamlined BadgerCare enrollment process, and the Trump Administration has not as of yet even created a new special enrollment period for ACA marketplace plans for COVID-19. There is nothing magical about 100% or 138% of FPL, and they are not based in any way on the actual ability to manage and pay for private health insurance and medical cost sharing.

Emergency Powers Give Wisconsin Authority to use BadgerCare to Fight Coronavirus

For Immediate Release: March 20, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324 [email protected]

Emergency Powers Give Wisconsin Authority to use BadgerCare to Fight Coronavirus

Federal Emergency Declaration opens new avenues to guarantee everyone is tested and treated without cost sharing, fully covering all uninsured Wisconsinites

Statewide: Under pressure from a number of states seeking to stem the alarming speed of novel coronavirus transmission, the federal government late last week issued emergency regulations that would allow Wisconsin to use BadgerCare to guarantee that everyone in Wisconsin has health coverage during the pandemic. This would dramatically improve Wisconsin’s odds for slowing the coming pandemic by removing a major barrier to seeking testing and treatment. The federal government took similar steps during the H1N1 epidemic and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

If Wisconsin acts boldly and swiftly, this federal declaration gives the Wisconsin state government new power to slow the speed of the pandemic, and potentially save tens of thousands of lives. According to public health experts, one of the most critical things we can do to protect both the afflicted and the general public is to maximize the number of people with symptoms who immediately seek testing and treatment. COVID-19 is so contagious that delays in seeking medical care can lead to the infection of thousands of additional people. After we have tested and treated everyone with symptoms, and the federal government has addressed the shortage of testing kits, it is essential to test and treat community wide, because the disease is spread by seemingly healthy people without symptoms.

The fear of financially crippling health care bills in the profit-centered American health care system is a grave risk not only to affected individuals and their families but the entire community because it actually discourages people from seeking medical care.

The Coronavirus Relief Act passed by Congress this week guarantees free testing for COVID 19, which is a critical step forward, but is silent on the cost of any treatment for that disease or any other underlying illnesses discovered by testing. Without free treatment, many will be deterred from seeking medical help – especially people who lack health coverage, a rapidly expanding group in an economy experiencing mass layoffs!

A survey of 1,000 Wisconsinites in every corner of the state released last week by Citizen Action, in partnership with the Health Value Hub and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that nearly half of Wisconsinites have gone without needed medical care because of fear of the cost in the last year! This dangerous situation will be intensified by the large number of people losing their income during the pandemic. The affordability crisis in the American healthcare system is dangerous in normal times; during a pandemic, it is a deadly threat to the health of everyone in Wisconsin!

A preliminary analysis of the new emergency rules by Citizen Action of Wisconsin has identified two major steps Wisconsin can take to use BadgerCare to contain COVID-19. We also propose a third vital step that Wisconsin can take to make sure those who have private health insurance will not be deterred from seeking treatment due to unaffordable copays and deductibles associated with even the best American health insurance plans. Many of these proposals are already being pursued by other states. (The Evers Administration may be developing plans internally that are not yet public which include some of these proposals.)

Step 1: Wisconsin has the authority to propose waivers to the federal government, which can be approved within days of submission. These waivers can make it much easier to enroll in BadgerCare and to retain it, including online and phone enrollment, extension of renewal deadlines, suspension of cancellations, and elimination of barriers such as premiums, copays, work requirements, and many other administrative hurdles. 

Critically, Wisconsin could adopt a “presumptive eligibility” policy that allows medical providers, enrollment staff, schools, and community health centers to enroll people in BadgerCare without any income test if they appear eligible. This is especially helpful in an environment where there are mass layoffs and it would be time consuming to confirm that a family was eligible when unemployment insurance claims are likely to overwhelm the state’s processing capacity. The Coronavirus Relief Act which passed Congress this week increases the federal share of Medicaid costs in Wisconsin to 65.5%, offsetting part of the state cost for expanding BadgerCare enrollment.

Step 2: Wisconsin should immediately expand BadgerCare by accepting the Medicaid Expansion authorized and funded by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Without ACA Medicaid Expansion, “presumptive eligibility” will not work for many adults who do not fit into specific Medicaid eligible categories and are (or appear to be) above the federal poverty line. In addition, as Wisconsin is losing $340 million in the current state budget because it turned down the ACA Medicaid expansion funding, this revenue could immediately be deployed in the fight to contain COVID-19. Accepting Medicaid Expansion would allow Wisconsin to use presumptive eligibility to get the state close to universal health coverage and to reassure the public that cost should not deter them from seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment. It would also defray some and perhaps all of the state’s costs for increased enrollment resulting from all of the emergency measures we propose.

Step 3: The massive level of cost sharing in most private health insurance plans also deters people from seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment, endangering public health. Our recent statewide survey showed that almost half of respondents had avoided medical treatment and services in the last year, and most of them had health insurance coverage. A number of states already mandated that health insurance plans cover COVID-19 testing and treatment with no consumer cost sharing. So far, Wisconsin has only recommended that insurers suspend copays and deductibles. It would be prudent for Wisconsin to actually ban cost sharing as a danger to public health. If this creates too much of a burden on health insurance and self-insured plans, Wisconsin could also outlaw hospital price gouging by requiring them to accept Medicare rates for all treatment that results from a COVID-19 test. There is no justification for hospitals and medical providers to charge unreasonable prices for their services during this state and national emergency.

“We need bold leadership now more than ever. This unprecedented public health emergency focuses our attention on the reality that we are all interconnected, and that leaving people out of our healthcare system risks the lives of everyone in the community,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Tens of thousands of Wisconsinites who could otherwise have avoided infection may be needlessly put at risk if we don’t come together to assure that no one in Wisconsin delays or avoids treatment because they can’t afford the high cost of healthcare.”

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Ron Johnson’s Opposition to Paid Sick Days Threatens to Delay or Weaken Coronavirus Response

For Immediate Release: March 16, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324 [email protected]

Ron Johnson’s Opposition to Paid Sick Days Threatens to Delay or Weaken Coronavirus Response

Statewide: Over the weekend Senator Ron Johnson’s made national headlines for his vocal opposition to sick leave provisions in the Coronavirus Relief Bill which passed the U.S. House of Representatives Friday with the full support of the Trump Administration. The bill is so essential to public health during this unprecedented global emergency, it passed on Friday on a bipartisan basis by an overwhelming vote of 363-40. The bill is now pending in the U.S. Senate.

Senator Johnson may be carrying water for major right-wing business interests such as Club for Growth and National Federal of Independent Businesses, who are putting their ideological opposition to paid family leave over the safety of the American people. According to news reports, Johnson may have influenced 4 GOP Congressmen from Wisconsin who voted against the coronavirus bill on Friday.

The paid sick days provision is designed to make sure that workers do not risk their jobs when they do the right thing by staying home when they are sick, to take care of loved ones, or to look after their children who are without school or child care. Johnson’s preferred solution is unemployment insurance, which means workers would be forced to choose between job loss and helping contain the coronavirus.

“Time is of the essence in containing a pandemic. Despite the loopholes in this bill that exempt too many big corporate employers, passing the Coronavirus Relief Bill immediately and as written is a public health necessity,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “The bill also includes free testing, which is critical to containing the spread of this life-threatening virus. The clock is ticking, and if Senator Johnson’s obstruction delays or even waters down the bill, it could risk hundreds of thousands of lives.”

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