For the first time in more than a decade, the Wisconsin state budget includes new funding to support programs focused on ending homelessness; $2.45 million will be used for case management services, job training, and re-entry housing over the next two years. The victory this year might seem small, but considering Wisconsin’s current $3.25 million in annual spending on homelessness, the new support is a sizeable increase.
Republicans control both houses of the Wisconsin legislature as well as the governor’s office, so the passage of new funding to address homelessness required cultivating support from unlikely allies. The $2.45 million was in Governor Scott Walker’s (R) original budget request and remained intact when he signed the biennial budget bill on September 21. The advocacy effort to increase funding for homeless programs was led by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness (WCAH). Their work on the budget involved mobilization of advocates and service providers throughout the state, including the Wisconsin Partnership for Housing Development, an NLIHC state partner.
WCAH built support for the budget proposal in the Republican caucus by demonstrating the paucity of Wisconsin’s homelessness funding compared to that of similar neighboring states. According to WCAH, Illinois spends $53.4 million on homeless services annually, Minnesota $44 million, and Michigan $16.65 million. Wisconsin’s previous $3.25 million commitment may help explain why Wisconsin ranks fifth in the nation in the growth rate of homelessness between 2007 and 2015, according to HUD data.
Of the $2.45 million in new funding for homelessness, $1.3 million will expand the Opening Avenues to Re-entry Success (OARS) program which assists individuals leaving the state prison system; $1 million will be a re-purposing of federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) dollars for professional case management services to work with families in shelters to eliminate barriers to permanent housing and employment; and $150,000 will fund a pilot program to enable communities to link homeless individuals to work experiences, although communities participating in this program will need to provide a funding match.
In addition to increased funding, the budget authorizes the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Agency (WHEDA) to prioritize people who are homeless when granting Housing Choice Vouchers. WHEDA administers contracts for Project-Based Rental Assistance vouchers throughout the state.
The new budget law also creates a position within the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that will work to apply for a federal waiver that will allow service providers and local government agencies to bill Medicaid for essential supportive services and case management that ensures long-term housing success. More than 16 states have already been granted such waivers.
Authorizing legislation separate from the budget will establish a Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness if approved by the State Senate, which appears likely. The state Interagency Council on Homelessness would operate similar to the model used at the federal level, bringing together leadership from several departments of state government to streamline services and improve outcomes. The lieutenant governor will chair the council.
“We are thrilled to see this new funding make it through a contentious budget cycle in Madison, and we are thankful to Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch for her leadership,” said Joe Volk, director at WCAH. “We know this is only the first step, and we are working to build stronger advocacy networks for the next budget session in 2019.”
For more information about the budget victories in Wisconsin, contact Joe Volk, WCAH director, at: firstname.lastname@example.org