Evers seeks disaster declaration as unemployment growsSubmitted: 03/31/2020
Evers seeks disaster declaration as unemployment grows
Story By Scott Bauer, Associated Press

Photos By Driscb21 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

MADISON - Gov. Tony Evers asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to issue a major disaster declaration for the state of Wisconsin due to the coronavirus pandemic, as unemployment claims hit a daily high and the state's health secretary warned lawmakers that Medicaid enrollments were going to increase dramatically.

Evers said he hoped the declaration, which also would cover Wisconsin's federally recognized tribes, would allow the states to access critical programs to support its response, including community disaster loans, public assistance, direct assistance and crisis counseling.

"The response to this outbreak has caused multiple deaths, exhausted many of our resources, resulted in record unemployment claims, and taken a toll on the community infrastructure that is in place to protect the public," Evers said. "We need federal assistance to help rebuild those critical safety nets and ensure they remain strong."

Evers on Tuesday also announced that isolation centers would be opening on Wednesday in Milwaukee and Madison. The centers will house people confirmed to have the virus or are showing symptoms and who want to isolate themselves. They would need a referral from a doctor or public health official to be admitted.

As of Tuesday, Wisconsin had had more than 1,350 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 25 deaths, based on state and local health department reports. The state has not reported how many people are hospitalized currently or in intensive care units.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The number of initial claims for unemployment benefits topped 24,600 on Monday, making it the highest daily total during the outbreak. Since March 15, there have been nearly 222,000 claims, which is 17-times higher than the same period a year ago.

Also Tuesday, Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm warned lawmakers that swift action would be needed to bolster the Medicaid program which serves more than 1 million poor, elderly and disabled people.

"The pandemic is likely to significantly increase Medicaid expenditures (through June 2021)," Palm wrote to the co-chairs of the Legislature's budget committee. "Medicaid members will require more health care services, and the pandemic's effects on the nation's economy will likely drive up Medicaid enrollment."

Evers and Republicans who control the Legislature are discussing a state aid package to complement an estimated $2.2 billion coming the state's way as part of the federal stimulus.

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