Wisconsin Gov Walker Refuses to Sign off on Nonprofit Applications for Grants

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August 3, 2011; Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel | Remember when some (Republican) governors hinted that they would reject some or all of the stimulus funds they were being offered? In most instances, they relented, more attracted to the prospect of federal government greenbacks in state coffers than repulsed by the concept of a New Deal-like governmental infusion to jump-start an economy in the doldrums.

But Wisconsin’s Republican Governor, Scott Walker, is not a sunshine ideologue. He means what he says. In contrast to the practice of his predecessor, Governor Jim Doyle, Walker’s state health services director, Dennis Smith, has refused to offer the state’s backing to applications for federally funded health grants on fighting drug and alcohol abuse and assessing the health impacts of public policies, totaling over $9 million in potential resources foregone. Earlier, Smith had rejected backing grants totaling $30 million for initiatives to stop smoking and reduce obesity, but Governor Walker reversed that. Maybe he will do that again in this instance, given some of the virulent reactions received from local officials, such as Bevan Baker, Milwaukee’s commissioner of health:  

“I, for the life of me, cannot understand why at a time when there is a proliferation of illicit drugs and documentation of binge drinking and drunken driving in the state . . . Wisconsin would put its head in the virtual sand and not go after this funding.”

Realize that this isn’t just the state saying it will not seek these grants, but state sign-off is needed for many municipal and nonprofit grant applications, or at a minimum, backing from the state boosts an in-state nonprofit applicant’s changes for the federal money.

How did the state explain its decision to spurn the federal dollars? Smith’s deputy, Kitty Rhoades, said that they didn’t support grant applications that “duplicated existing programs, weren’t needed or hadn’t received enough planning.”  She also gave the stimulus argument, that the state “was also wary of committing to grants that might lead to ongoing programs that would need money from state taxpayers later.”

Wisconsin under Governor Walker is not exactly leading in health services.  According to Baker, a march report from the Trust for American Health ranked Wisconsin 47th or lower per capita on both state expenditures for health. That’s not the kind of social welfare statistic one would expect from the state of “Fighting Bob” La Follette.

The upshot is this:  nonprofits increasingly need municipal or state sign-off before becoming eligible for some federal grants. If for ideological or control reasons, state officials close the window of offering sign-off support, poor people will lose out on vital services and nonprofits will find themselves hard-pressed to continue operating at a high level meeting the demand of this double-dip recession.—Rick Cohen