By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers told President Donald Trump and the state’s congressional delegation on Thursday that Wisconsin needs $466 million by April to pay for vaccine distribution, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, hospitals and an awareness campaign about public health.
Evers, a Democrat, made the plea amid talks with Republican state lawmakers on COVID-19 proposals, but with no agreement or immediate action in sight.
Evers also wrote to the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking that Wisconsin be made a priority for vaccine distribution so the state’s 450,000 health-care workers can be vaccinated. Wisconsin is expected to receive nearly 50,000 doses of vaccine within weeks.
Wisconsin’s plan for vaccine distribution prioritizes frontline health care workers who have treated or been exposed to COVID-19 patients, along with residents of long-term care or assisted-living centers, people over age 65, and some essential workers.
“The next few months will be a critical time for our state,” Evers said at a news conference.
Evers made the case to set a priority on Wisconsin, and pass a federal-aid bill that would send more than half a billion dollars to the state, as the state neared 400,000 total positive cases of COVID-19 even as new positives began to slow from a peak in mid-November. There were 4,618 new cases reported Thursday, bringing the total to 399,708 cases. There were 60 new deaths, with a total of 3,562.
The seven-day average of new cases was 3,596, down from the peak last month. But state health secretary Andrea Palm said it was too soon to know whether the trend would hold. She noted that 34% of Wisconsin hospitals reported critical staffing shortages and 40% project they will have shortages within a week.
Although making a plea for more federal money, Evers also said he was disappointed that Republicans who control the state Senate aren’t interested in voting on measures this month. Leaders in the GOP-controlled Assembly have said they would be open to voting this month.
Evers said he was open to calling a special session to force the Legislature to return, but doing that does not require lawmakers to take action.
“That is a last resort from my vantage point because we haven’t successfully done that in the past,” he said, in reference to past special sessions where Republicans ignored his call to vote on certain bills.
Even if the Legislature were to return, there is no agreement yet on what they would do. Evers said he opposed the Senate GOP plan to tap a $120 million medical assistance program surplus to pay for COVID-19 testing and other measures. And he said the Assembly GOP package, which included about 50 bills, had some “poison pills” that he would not back and others that he needs more information about.
Also on Thursday, Evers announced that Wisconsin restaurants and other small businesses affected by the pandemic will receive $45 million in grants. Qualified businesses will receive $20,000 by the end of the year. No application is necessary, because eligible businesses will be identified through state tax records and contacted by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he was pleased money was being directed toward restaurants that have been hard hit.