THU AM News: Wisconsin again ranked 23rd in United Health Foundation report; DHS estimates thousands of children will be cut from state SNAP program

— Wisconsin has again been ranked 23rd among U.S. states by the United Health Foundation as the state continues to struggle with excessive drinking, rising obesity and low levels of public health funding.

This year’s ranking is unchanged from 2018, but Wisconsin has been trending downward for decades. The state was ranked 7th in 1990 when the America’s Health Rankings report was first created. 

Still, the latest report shows diabetes numbers and access to mental health care have improved over the past two years. And the state continues to have a low percentage of uninsured individuals, and relatively clean air compared to other states. 

Diabetes among Wisconsinites fell from 9.8 percent to 8.7 percent of adults in the past two years. The state is ranked 4th in this category, falling from 12th in 2018. Meanwhile, the number of mental health providers increased by around 12 percent in the same timeframe, though the ranking of 34th is unchanged from last year. 

Wisconsin is ranked 9th for its uninsured rate and 15th for levels of air pollution, both of which declined slightly over the year. 

Since 2012, obesity in the state has jumped from nearly 28 percent to 32 percent. The report shows obesity has been climbing steadily for nearly 30 years and is now nearly three times as prevalent as in 1990. 

The state was again ranked worst in the country for excessive drinking. Previous studies have spotlighted Wisconsin’s high levels of binge drinking, as well as alcohol-related mortality through accidents and disease. The report emphasizes that excessive alcohol consumption remains a significant public health challenge. 

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— The state Department of Health Services estimates thousands of children will lose eligibility for free and reduced school lunches under new federal rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

DHS spokeswoman Jennifer Miller says 38,600 individuals would be expected to lose eligibility for FoodShare — the state’s SNAP program — if the rule had gone into effect June 2019. Of that number, 12,200 were minors and 8,800 qualified for free or reduced lunch at school under the program. 

Miller notes the rule has yet to be finalized and these numbers are “still our best estimate.” 

Funding for the program last year came from the federal government, the state, and local sources. DHS estimates the administrative cost of the FoodShare program would increase by $17.7 million to reach $139.7 million, based on enrollment in June 2019. 

“At this point, DHS is uncertain how the costs would be funded,” Miller said in an email. 

The new restrictions to the SNAP program raise certain requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents. According to a release from USDA, the move is meant to restore the original intent of the program and reduce reliance on government assistance. 

The agency says in 2000, U.S. unemployment was at 4 percent and the number of SNAP beneficiaries was around 17 million. In 2019, the national unemployment rate is 3.6 percent and 36 million Americans are benefitting from SNAP. 

Earlier this year, USDA had estimated up to 775,000 people could lose their SNAP eligibility under the new rule. 

See details here: 

See more on the state’s FoodShare program: 

— Tourism Secretary Sara Meaney pledged to the Governor’s Council on Tourism “we’re going to get this right,” declaring the body will operate in compliance with state law after a past attempt to elect officers prompted concerns the process violated the open meetings law.

Still, GOP state Sen. Andre Jacque, a member of the council who has frequently criticized Meaney, was noncommittal on whether he believed the secretary should be confirmed by the state Senate.

During the meeting, council member and state Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, pressed her Senate colleagues on when the body planned to vote on Meaney’s confirmation.

So far, the Senate has only confirmed six of Gov. Tony Evers’ cabinet picks and his selection to the PSC.

“I believe by holding these positions open so long, especially tourism, is leading to problems,” Billings said. “It leads to nitpicking and second-guessing by people who are not even associated in the field of tourism.”

Jacque told Billings some “concerns had been raised” about Meaney’s leadership but suggested the meeting wasn’t the proper place to discuss them. Afterward, he ticked off a series of issues to reporters — from the botched attempt to elect council officers to failing to meet with her predecessor Stephanie Klett. Some Republicans had urged Evers to keep Klett in the position after he beat Scott Walker last fall.

A Tourism spokesman said Meaney has reached out to Klett to arrange a meeting, and her predecessor indicated she was willing to do so after the new year. The spokesman said Jacque has been apprised of those efforts.

“It’s an accumulation of a lot of things that a lot of my colleagues have picked up on,” Jacque said.

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— Wisconsin is among the five states with the lowest burden from credit card debt, according to a report from, an online financial data aggregator. 

The report shows a typical Wisconsin consumer has $6,898 in credit card debt and earns just over $60,000 per year. Based on allocating 15 percent of earnings, the site says it would take 10 months to pay off the debt and $683 in interest payments. 

Other states with similarly low burdens are Massachusetts, Minnesota, Utah and New Hampshire. Meanwhile, states with the greatest burden are New Mexico, Louisiana, West Virginia, Arkansas and Mississippi. 

The report shows nine of the 10 states with the highest credit card burdens are in the South, aside from New Mexico. Numbers for the report came from Experian and the U.S. Census. 

See the report: 

— ThedaCare has announced plans for a new emergency center at its Berlin facility, supporting access to more rural care services. 

The cost of the new 9,000 square-foot emergency department is estimated at $7.5 million to $9.5 million. Construction is slated to begin spring 2020 and wrap up by January 2021. 

In a release, the organization notes the need for emergency services in rural areas is on the rise, citing a study from the Journal of American Medical Association. Rural emergency departments have seen a 50 percent increase in patient visits in the past decade.  

Two new treatment rooms will be added, and existing rooms will be expanded. The new department will also have a larger trauma room, a chemical decontamination shower, and more options for telehealth. 

The Berlin hospital currently uses telehealth to connect with specialists at other ThedaCare facilities in Neenah and Appleton. 

“The new facility will enhance those capabilities, allowing us to bring specialists into our ED via computer monitors, so they are essentially in the room,” said Tammy Bending, vice president of the Berlin hospital.  “This ensures coordinated patient consultation and care through ThedaCare’s expert network of providers.”

That network includes seven hospitals in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose, as well as 31 clinics in nine counties. 

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— Dem lawmakers have introduced a bill that would create a state web portal with information for small businesses, with a goal of supporting small business owners and entrepreneurs. 

The bill is from Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, and Rep. Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa. The portal would help business owners find bidding opportunities, economic development programs, licensing or permit requirements, education and networking, and financial information. 

The lawmakers say information on state business resources is currently scattered and should be coordinated through one platform. 

See the release: 

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– Madison City Council upholds demolition by neglect ruling against landlord Harold Langhammer

– Oak Creek approves plan for two hotels, conference center near Ikea


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