Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers released his 2021-23 budget in February, which includes funding for programs that benefit people who are blind or visually impaired.
Every two years, the governor uses input from state agencies to develop their budget. The governor’s proposed budget then gets reviewed by the legislature and they create their draft. Once passed by both houses, the governor signs the budget bill. More on the budget process can be found in “How to Impact the Wisconsin State Budget,” one of our previous Advocacy Updates.
The following outlines some of the budget items we support.
Improving Transportation for Nondrivers
Getting where you need to go reliably on schedule is key to having a job, accessing healthcare and getting to a store for necessities. Reliable transportation can also link you to family and friends. Legislators may not know that nondrivers face many barriers to accessing transportation. About 65 percent of people who are blind or visually impaired are unemployed, and a comprehensive public transportation system is a critical to the ability to start and keep a job.
Proposal: The Shared Revenue and Tax Relief measure would allow great funding for cross-municipal transit routes. Agreements between adjacent counties and municipalities could create transportation routes that take people further, which is now lacking.
Action: Legislators need to hear how critical cross-municipal transportation is to you and how it would improve your access to things that people who drive take for granted. We believe this measure is a game changer to provide necessary transportation services.
Proposal: Increase funding for paratransit and transit by 2.5 percent each in the next two budget years, provide an incremental funding increase for the Specialized Transit Assistance Program, and add $1 million each year to the Transportation Alternatives Program.
Action: If you use any of the transportation programs above, tell your legislator how the program helps you get to work, school or healthcare appointments.
Increasing Broadband Access
As everything went online in 2020, gaps in the technology were uncovered and the implications of poor internet speed and connectivity were revealed. Access to affordable broadband internet service makes it possible to connect with friends and loved ones, combatting isolation, depression and improving mental health outcomes. Having affordable broadband makes it possible to work remotely and accomplish other daily tasks, including telehealth visits.
Proposal: Increase broadband funding to provide more people access to affordable internet service by boosting spending over the biennium by $150 million, and then by $2 million annually thereafter. Funds earmarked for the State Broadband Office could provide grants to rural and urban communities who need better broadband infrastructure.
Action: It is vital to connect for people in the blind and visually impaired community and we advocate for this sustainable and equitable solution. Last summer, for instance, the Council launched a free Low Vision Support Group that meets monthly to connect people from across the state for information and camaraderie, which is made possible through good connectivity. Tell your legislator how increased broadband Internet access could provide you with the tools vital to connect with family and friends, work remotely or get telehealth services.
Equity in Economic Development
Several budget provisions address current inequities in education, training and work programs.
Proposal: Repeal a 2013 state law that prevents people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits from getting unemployment benefits or pandemic unemployment assistance. This law has made it difficult for people whose jobs have been impacted by the pandemic to get assistance.
Action: If you have been impacted by this law, it is important to tell your legislator how and ask that it be changed.
Proposal: Increase resources in the Department of Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). This proposal would boost the state match for Title 1B grant (a reading program for young children) and create a position to support vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities.
Action: Advocate to expand the program to meet the needs of children who are blind and visually impaired.
Proposal: Provide greater funding to Project SEARCH through a $250,000 transfer from the Fast Forward jobs training program. Project SEARCH provides training and career services to young people with disabilities in and just out of high school.
Action: You can help us to expand this program by asking that it include a specialist that meets the needs of people with vision loss.
These are just a few items in the Governor’s budget that the Council has flagged for action. Get in touch with Council CEO/Executive Director Denise Jess if there are other measures in the budget that you think are important to follow. Contact Denise at DJess@WCBlind.org or (608) 237-8103.
Adding Your Voice
It is key for elected officials to hear directly from constituents as they decide which priorities are the most important to receive funding in the budget. Tell elected officials how these programs would impact your life. Find your elected officials and their contact information on the state legislature website at maps.legis.wisconsin.gov/results.aspx. Tell a succinct and pointed personal story about why provisions to help you access better transportation would help you, for instance. Include a compelling fact or statistic to support your story, then ask them to support a specific budget measure. Finally, listen to the legislator’s response and learn from it.
We encourage you to attend Advocacy Days in April. The virtual event will happen via Zoom on Tuesday, April 6; Wednesday, April 7; and Thursday, April 8, and include a general session on how to advocate on behalf of the Council as well as breakout sessions on transportation and accessibility. Find more information and register on our website or contact Kathleen Callen at (608) 237-8120 or KCallen@WCBlind.org.