TUE AM News: DSPS head pushes back on criticism of agency amid licensing delays; March home prices up 10.2 percent over the year

— Department of Safety and Professional Services Secretary Dawn Crim says “I have done all that I can” to address delays in licensing approvals given available resources. 

Speaking yesterday during a “Newsmakers” interview hosted by WisconsinEye, Crim responded to criticism leveled at the agency during a recent meeting of the Assembly Regulatory Licensing Reform Committee. 

“At the end of the day, being short staffed, and our process being a manual one, and some of the complexities of our licenses, sometimes it takes us a little longer than I would like for us to take to get people licensed,” she said. “My goal is to provide the level of service that our license holders are looking for, and unfortunately given the resource that I have at hand, it can be challenging.” 

Marc Herstand, executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, spoke about the issue in mid-March during a meeting of the Assembly committee. 

“In my 29 years, I’ve never, ever seen the backlog as bad as it is now,” he said. “In the past, I generally received two or three contacts per year, mostly from out-of-state folks having difficulty getting licensed. In the last year or so, it’s been one to two a week. So it’s been really bad.” 

He said members of the association have lost out on job opportunities because they couldn’t get licensed quickly enough, or were forced to work in lower-level positions while they waited on getting approval. 

Crim said she’s asked for more funding in the last two budget requests to hire more staff but received less than a third of what she requested on both occasions. At the same time, she noted the agency brings in enough revenue through licensing fees to “provide the level of service” that’s being demanded of the agency. 

“My challenge is I’m not able to use the fees that our customers pay to provide the service,” she said. “I have to give those dollars to the Legislature, to the state, and then request back using what’s available to me. We bring in enough dollars. I should be properly staffed to provide the level of service and [resources] that our customers require.” 

DSPS has received criticism over licensing delays from lawmakers and other organizations such as the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. WILL Policy Director Kyle Koenen said last month the agency “must get a grip on this backlog,” noting delays of weeks or months prevents workers from earning a living. 

And Rep. Shae Sortwell, who chairs the Assembly Regulatory Licensing Reform Committee, more recently slammed Gov. Tony Evers’ handling of the agency. 

“Between horrendous customer service and not approving provisional licenses or psychology

exams, it is clear that there are some serious problems going on with the Governor’s

administration of DSPS,” the Two Rivers Republican said. “Wisconsin healthcare and mental health workers are waiting months (or more) to be able to provide care to our state because the Governor can’t get his department in order.”

As the head of DSPS, Crim acknowledged that “all eyes are on me.” 

But she argued that “I am a very, very small part of the responsibility piece to it … My job is to make the appropriate requests, bring in the resources, and then deploy them appropriately. I’ve done all that I can given my circumstance.” 

Newsmakers host Lisa Pugh noted during yesterday’s interview that DSPS has seen a “considerable increase” in the number of processed applications in recent years. She said the agency processed about 57,000 applications between 2013 and 2015. That number rose to around 122,000 for the period between 2019 and 2021. 

Crim said when she joined the agency in 2019, she was looking for “systemic solutions” to improve the agency’s operations. 

“I have the moneys coming in. I’ve asked to use them. If they simply would let me use the fee dollars we have coming in, I would be able to solve the challenges that we face,” she said. 

Watch the full interview here: https://wiseye.org/2022/04/18/newsmakers-a-conversation-with-dsps-secretary-dawn-crim/ 

— The state’s median home price rose 10.2 percent over the year to reach $253,500 in March, the latest Wisconsin Realtors Association report shows. 

That marks an increase from $230,000 in March 2021, per the report. As home prices in the state are increasing, monthly home sales and statewide listings have been on the decline. 

Monthly home sales in March fell 7 percent over the year, from 6,068 to 5,641 last month, the report shows. At the same time, the total number of listings in the state fell 16.2 percent from 18,683 to 15,650. 

On a quarterly basis, sales in the first quarter of this year were 4.4 percent lower than the first quarter of 2021, WRA says. And the median home price rose 9.6 percent to $240,000 when comparing the same periods. 

WRA’s report also notes inventories “remain very tight” with 2.1 months of available supply in March. That’s decreased from 2.5 months of supply one year earlier. 

Meanwhile, the average number of days homes stay on the market has fallen from 89 days in March 2021 to 79 days last month. 

“Inventories tightened in every region of the state and across all county types, including larger metropolitan counties, mid-sized micropolitan counties and smaller rural counties,” report authors wrote. “Since a six-month supply indicates a balanced market, the Wisconsin existing home market remains a strong seller’s market.” 

They also said that “rapidly rising prices and a significant uptick in mortgage rates” has reduced housing affordability in Wisconsin by 19.5 percent over the year. The report shows the average monthly 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 4.17 percent in March, up from 3.08 percent in March 2021. 

“Mortgage rates in early April are moving closer to 5%, and this trend will likely moderate housing demand pressure over the next few months as some potential buyers drop out of the market.” WRA President CEO Michael Theo wrote in the report. 

See the full report: https://www.wispolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/220418realestate.pdf 

— An assistant professor of biochemistry at UW-Madison is getting a three-year, $300,000 grant for a research project focused on an aggressive form of blood cancer. 

This work could lead to new therapeutic targets for this type of cancer, according to a post from the university. 

Jason Cantor was among the 10 researchers selected for this year’s Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Awards, which fund early-stage research projects with potential to benefit the health of children. 

His team will focus on T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. While survival rates for this cancer in children have been improving, the post shows, current treatments can lead to “chronic adverse events” in patients and fail to keep about 20 percent of children from relapsing. 

Using a genetic editing tool called CRISPR, Cantor aims to identify genes influencing cancer cell activity that “would otherwise be masked by traditional approaches,” the university says. These could inform efforts to develop new therapies. 

Cantor explains in the post that his lab looks at two key questions: how human cells grow, and how environmental factors influence this process. 

“To address this somewhat coupled set of questions, my group develops and uses new tools designed to more faithfully model environmental contributions to cell biology, and in turn, combine these with approaches that cut across areas of biology and engineering — CRISPR is a great example,” he said. 

Cantor will also be working with Dr. Christian Capitini, an associate professor of pediatrics in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, to apply findings to studies of human cancer cells transplanted in mice. Both scientists are part of the UW Carbone Cancer Center’s Developmental Therapeutics Program. 

“This award will have a significant impact on my program not only by supporting our short- and long-term research goals, but also by fostering new collaborative opportunities and my continued recruitment of highly passionate and creative trainees,” Cantor said. 

See more details here: https://biochem.wisc.edu/news/2022/news-cantor-receives-hartwell-individual-biomedical-research-award-2022-04-14 

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— Progress on spring tillage and planting of Wisconsin’s oat and potato crops is slow, a USDA report shows, as wet and cold conditions put a damper on farming. 

Wisconsin had just 1.6 days suitable for fieldwork during the week ending April 17, according to the report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. 

It shows spring tillage was 4 percent complete as of April 17, which is two weeks behind last year and 10 days behind the running five-year average. 

Meanwhile, 4 percent of the expected oat crop was planted, which is 13 days behind last year’s pace. And 1 percent of potato planting was completed, which is 12 days behind last year. 

“Wet and cold soil conditions continued across much of the State, and temperatures averaged 5.8 degrees below normal,” report authors wrote. “Little fieldwork was possible in northern Wisconsin due to freezing nighttime temperatures and snow showers, while limited fieldwork was able to be completed in southern Wisconsin on well-drained soils.” 

See the report: https://www.wispolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/220418WI-Crop-Progress-04-18-22.pdf 


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