Thursday, February 5, 2009

MJS Editorial Board: Expain Yourself!

OK, we all know the story about the public assistance call center, and how Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker tried to sabotage it by refusing to fill the positions that were authorized and fully funded in the 2008 budget.

We all know that due to Walker's willful and malicious neglect, poor people were unnecessarily and improperly denied much-need assistance.

We also know that due to the poor performance caused by Walker, there is now a class action lawsuit against the state and the county.

The state, not wanting to have to defend or pay out on a big lawsuit that wasn't their fault, took actions to correct the matter.

With the County Board due to vote on the call center, even with the State initiating their takeover. They faced the daunting task of trying to figure out a way to fix the call center to prevent the take over, and to do it as fast as possible.

In light of the upcoming vote, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Editorial Board dedicates not one, but two, full editorials to it. Both come down in favor of screwing the poor and screwing the taxpayers.

In one, they state, correctly, that the State takeover of income maintenance program services is a bad thing, and they urge the County Board to take measures to fix it ASAP. Dispersed throughout their editorial are factual errors, but they are so absurd that they are almost laughable.

The second editorial is more disconcerting. They actually try to advocate for the more irresponsible, the more costly and less productive plan. Namely, Walker's attempt to privatize the call center:
The Milwaukee County Board has an opportunity today to begin to address what everyone acknowledges is a train wreck at the county's public assistance call center. We think the best solution remains County Executive Scott Walker's proposal to hire a private agency and some University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee personnel to take over the center, and we hope the board votes for the plan today.


Walker argues that his plan will increase the number of calls the county handles by 87%, going from 13,300 calls per month, assuming a fully staffed call center by county employees, to 25,000 calls per month. The proposal would create a partnership with IMPACT, a private agency that also runs the separate 211 social services hotline for the county, and UWM to take over the call center for $2 million.

The system clearly is not functioning. One study found that out of a million calls placed every month, only about 100,000 callers get through to a worker. A federal lawsuit says clients in need aren't getting the benefits they deserve. Some who deserve benefits may have given up trying to get them because they can't get through to anyone.

The editorial board, once again, ignores the facts reported by their own paper and acts like a press release relay tool for Scott Walker.

Not once do they address the reason why the call center is failing (because then they would have to blame their hero, Walker, for failing to staff it). Not once do they say that the Board's plan would provide more workers for less money, thereby increasing efficiency.

When the County Board finally does the right thing, three months too late, and finally puts the privatization plan down for good, the editorial board feels compelled to lament the wise decision on their blog.

But perhaps they just don't understand. Sigh. I will try - for the umpteenth time - to put it in a way that even they can understand.

The call center is to take phone calls (hence the name "call center") from people needing to update their information, call to renew their benefits, or to check the status on their request for economic assistance. The call center has been failing for a long, long time, because there hasn't been enough workers to take all of these phone calls. Even though the County Board ratified a budget that fully funded 25 workers to be there, Walker has refused to fill those spots.

Now. Walker wants to partially privatize the call center. He wants to have a couple dozen people be paid to answer the phone and take a message. Then this glorified secretary would take the message to one of the only ten people that could actually do anything to help the people who called. The secretary then puts the message with the growing pile of other messages. The benefit is that someone is now answering the calls, even though their problems aren't being solved.

The County Board said that was silly, and wanted to have 30 county workers who could answer the call AND take care of the problem right away. And their plan would have saved taxpayers $42,000 when compared to Walker's plan.

So, now, I sincerely hope that the editorial board would be kind enough to explain, using rational, coherent, and factual statements, why Walker's plan is better. It's more expensive and does less for the people who need the help. How is that better?

You can either answer in the comments, email me, or put something on your own blog, but I really want to know how you think Walker's plan is better, and why anyone would think that you are really invested in what is the best for the community.

And while you're at it, since your paper recently was real busy slapping itself on its own back on what a great job it was doing with their investigative reporting, please tell us why your paper hasn't looked into all that missing money from the 717 fully funded, but unfilled positions. What did Scott Walker do with it?


  1. They have had a love affair with Scott Walker for years. There is no rational explanation I've been able to come up with. It is the paper's blind devotion, as much as anything, that has made him secure in that office he abuses on a daily basis, and made it difficult for anyone to challenge him. If you doubt that, check their campaign coverage and editorials.

  2. Meanwhile, under STATE supervision, 2 dead babies in 90 days.

  3. xoff-

    You are not telling me anything I don't know.


    I don't think anyone is happy with the state takeover. But Walker refused to do the right thing, and the Board wasn't able to force the issue on him, so the State felt compelled to save us from ourselves, and a multimillion dollar lawsuit.