Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Walker's Incompetence Catches Up To Him - And Us

For over three months now, I've been trying to tell people that Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker was showing his weaselly ways with the public assistance call center. I've written about how Walker was using the poor of Milwaukee County as pawns in his political posturing game.

In a nutshell, Walker refused to fill the 25 fully funded positions that the County Board had authorized. Instead he filled it at best with 10 people, and sometimes with as low as four people. This, of course, only worsened the problems the call center was facing, and intentionally sabotaged the County's efforts to provide necessary services to the indigent and working poor in Milwaukee County.

During the most recent budget cycle, Scott Walker wanted to privatize the call center. His proposal was for 10 UWM workers to do the actual computer work the job requires and hiring a couple dozen people to simply answer the phones and take messages.

The County Board rejected that notion, and instead offered an amendment to authorize the call center to have 30 full time staff that could both answer the phones AND do the necessary computer work. On top of that, the Board's proposal came in at $42,000 less than Walker's privatization ploy.

Walker, who lies through his weasel teeth when he says he is against raising taxes, vetoed the cheaper and more effective amendment proposal. The County Board, in a spasm of myopia, failed to override the veto. However, Walker's veto had so bastardized the amendment, that he was also unable to proceed with his bilking of the taxpayers without writing new legislation.

While he was dinking around, traveling the state in campaign appearances and using county time to go to Washington D.C. to say goodbye to Bush (and probably pick up some pointers from Grover Norquist), he never got around to doing his job.

Late last week, the State issued a warning that the County needed to pick up the slack and start doing their job. Part of the impetus behind this warning stemmed from the federal government threatening to fine the state, who wasn't meeting their requirements, mainly due to Walker's sabotaging the County's program so that it would fail. The other, and more urgent matter, was that the courts had agreed to allow a class action lawsuit against the State and the County for their failure to provide necessary services in a timely fashion.

I pointed out the next day that this could have disastrous results for the County, costing jobs and raising our taxes to pay for the more expensive state workers. To quote myself:

Then the state will take over, people will lose their jobs, and our taxes will go up even higher than they might have otherwise. Yet Walker has the gall to call himself a financial conservative.

Walker has got to wake up to the truth that he is not helping anyone with his stubborn and asinine stance on this issue. His so-called solution won't solve anything, and runs a good chance of actually making things worse. He is not helping the people that need the services. He is not helping the taxpayers, who would have gained no relief at his plan, but face the serious risk of their taxes going up if and when the state takes over the system.

And he is not helping himself or his campaign. He is already facing an uphill battle as it is. By obstinately sticking to his failed policy, he is only giving fodder to any opponents, whether they be Mark Neumann or Alfred E. Newman.

Walker needs to fully staff the call center with county workers who are capable of answering the phones AND do the necessary computer work.

The County Board needs to find a way to force Walker into doing this, including, but not limited to, finally killing Walker's plan to privatize the call center. That would only be signing over the call center, and more tax dollars, to the state.

And if they should fail in getting Walker to finally do the right thing, they need to petition the state from doing anything as severe as taking over yet another system from Milwaukee County.

Unfortunately, my words again went unheeded. In fact, Walker did about the worst thing he could do, but the thing he loves to do the most (besides accept campaign contributions). He grandstanded on the issue, daring the State to do what he should have been doing all along.

This afternoon, the State called his bluff and have started to take the Income Maintenance program services. According to the MJS, the State issued a letter to highlight Walker's incompetent handling of the call center and related programs:
According to a state memo provided to state legislators and county officials:

• The county's poor performance in the programs includes answering only 5% of the hundreds of thousands of phone calls to the county's public assistance call center every month, according to a state memo provided to legislators and county officials. The state and county are defendants in a class-action lawsuit that claims unanswered calls has led to lengthy delays in approving food stamps and other benefits.

• The county fails to process 30% of its benefit applications within the required seven days, which some families have waited weeks or months for food or health care.

• In 2007, 60% of county decisions to deny food or health care benefits were overturned within two months. That resulted in benefit delays and forced families to go through time-consuming appeals or a second round of applications.

• The county's high food stamp error rate means nearly one in five deserving applicants were cut off from the program in the 2008 state fiscal year.

These services have become increasingly necessary as the recession caused by poor economic policies, like the ones Walker embraces, takes over the state and the county. They will continue to become even more so.

Too bad that Walker couldn't stop looking into his mirror, fantasizing about a thing that won't ever come true, that he couldn't take the time to actually do his job.

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