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Feed My People Food Bank moving forward with $3 million expansion project

Feed My People Food Bank is moving forward with its planned $3 million expansion this year, which will double the size of its Eau Claire facility.

The organization leaders will gather today at Charter Bank to receive a check that will help pay for the expansion.

Emily Moore, Feed My People Food Bank’s executive director, said they moved into their present building 10 years ago. Within a couple years, they realized the space just wasn’t going to be big enough for their future needs. They started planning for growth, and began putting away reserve dollars to pay for the project.

“We believed the building would be sufficient to handle triple the amount of food we were handling,” Moore said.

In 2009, they were distributing about 2 million pounds of food to food pantries and shelters they serve in a 14-county area. In 2019, that is now about 7 million pounds of food shared to those organizations. A FMPFB pamphlet states they have seen a 113 percent growth in the number of people served from 2009 to 2017.

The good news is their present location has enough land to expand on-site, she said.

Feed My People Food Bank already has $2.4 million in pledges, many over a five-year span.

“We have about $1.1 million in cash-on-hand, and $600,000 of that is money (we’ve saved) since 2010 we set aside for the project,” Moore said.

The group’s board decided in January 2018 to move forward with the project and attempt to line up donations to pay for the rest. They are still about $600,000 short.

“There is confidence the campaign will come together, so we’ll start (construction) this spring,” Moore said. “It’s exciting and a little nerve-racking. It’s the biggest project Feed My People has ever done. But Feed My People is about the community coming together to help each other, and this is an example of it.”

One of the features of the expansion is it will triple the cooler space, which will allow them to share more fresh food, particularly fruits and vegetables, to their clients. The space for volunteer work areas will double, and a second-floor office will be added. The first-floor reception area also will be remodeled.

Moore said they are a member of Feeding America Food Banks, which provides much of their food. They also have local donors, including agriculture providers. They also work with other food banks they work on sharing items.

Feed My People Food Bank has a planned open house on April 11. For more information on the organization, or to donate to the expansion, visit fmpfoodbank.org.


Medicaid expansion baked into Tony Evers' budget, health agency leaders say

MADISON — Funding increases for hospitals, dental care, women’s health, long-term care, mental health services and other health programs in Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ budget depend on expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income people, leaders of the state Department of Health Services said.

There’s no back-up plan if the Republican-controlled Legislature turns down Medicaid expansion, as GOP leaders have vowed to do, Andrea Palm, secretary-designee of the health department, told reporters.

The budget is “anchored in Medicaid expansion,” said Palm, who is traveling around the state to discuss the proposal released late last month. “Part of how we get to ‘yes’ with the Legislature is to have a Wisconsin community ... who see themselves in the budget and feel invested in getting it to the governor’s desk.”

Evers called for covering about 82,000 more adults who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level through Medicaid. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will pay at least 90 percent of the cost instead of its regular 60 percent share.

The higher federal payment would save the state $324 million over two years, which could be invested in other programs to draw down more federal dollars, for a total $1.6 billion investment in a variety of health services, Palm said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, oppose Medicaid expansion and have talked about writing their own biennial budget. The federal money for Medicaid expansion could fall through, and private health care costs could go up if providers increase prices to offset low Medicaid rates, they say.

Wisconsin is one of 14 states that haven’t adopted Medicaid expansion. Among them, it’s the only one with no gap in coverage for residents below the poverty level, as the other states don’t cover adults up to the poverty line.

State Sen. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, said Tuesday he is open to considering Medicaid expansion.

“I’m personally flexible,” Kooyenga said at a Wisconsin Health News forum.

However, he said Wisconsin could lose federal money now going to tax credits for low-income people who buy commercial insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Speaking at the same event, Wisconsin Medicaid director Jim Jones reiterated Palm’s stance in saying “there is no plan B” if Republicans reject Medicaid expansion.

“We are not willing to give up on Medicaid expansion,” Jones said. “We want to reinvest in health care in Wisconsin; we want to see better health outcomes. We are willing to work with anyone to try and get to yes.”

Palm, whose confirmation awaits approval in the state Senate, said doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and other providers would see higher payments with the federal money obtained through Medicaid expansion.

Mental health crisis programs, now funded solely by counties, would get some state money, Palm said. Postpartum coverage for women would extend from 60 days to a year, she said.

Asked if she would be willing to compromise to achieve Medicaid expansion, Palm didn’t offer suggestions. “I’m interested in getting to ‘yes’ on Medicaid expansion as envisioned in our budget,” she said.


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CF school district receives four bids for $65 million project

CHIPPEWA FALLS — Four contractors have submitted bids for the $65 million referendum project that Chippewa Falls area voters approved last year.

The bidding process allowed contractors to submit a bid for one or more of the projects, as well as a comprehensive bid for the entire project, a district press release states.

Howard Immell Construction and RJ Jurowski Construction both submitted bids to build the new Stillson Elementary School, estimated at about $22 million. Market & Johnson and Miron Construction each submitted bids for the entire project, but also bids for three separate projects. The bids were opened Tuesday.

“The goal of this approach was to create opportunities for contractors of all sizes to be competitive,” said district Superintendent Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos. “A smaller contractor might not be able to take on the full three-site project, but might be able to provide the qualified bid for a single project.”

District administration and the school board will now review those bids, and the board will vote on which bids to accept at its March 26 meeting.

“The bids were within budget, but we still use due diligence to go through them and vet their contracts,” explained business manager Chad Trowbridge.

Stillson Elementary will be rebuilt on a 36-acre site in the town of Lafayette, roughly one mile from the current school. The present timeline calls for construction of the new elementary school to begin this spring, and would be complete in time for school to begin in September 2020.

The rest of the money is for construction and equipping of a classroom addition, capital improvements and repairs, technology upgrades, remodeling and site improvements at the Middle School, and construction and equipping of a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) lab addition, capital improvements and repairs and technology upgrades at the high school.

About 53 percent of voters supported the referendum in the April 2018 election.

Stillson Elementary is the oldest school in the district, with the oldest wing constructed in the 1930s. It has an aging septic system and plumbing problems; there have been reports of the kitchen losing water pressure when toilets are flushed. The building went through renovations in 1957, 1963, 1985, 1990 and 1994, and is considered at the end of its useful life.

However, the building, parking lot and playground is on just a six-acre site, which is considered too small of a footprint for a modern elementary. Taylor-Eliopoulos said it should be on at least 14 acres, which is why the district decided to relocate the school. The 36-acre site also will allow for more athletic fields outside the school.


AP
Evers will sign offensive language bill despite his order

MADISON — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will sign a Republican bill removing the term “mental retardation” from five state agencies’ administrative codes even though he’s already issued an executive order that does just that, his spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Evers issued the order late Tuesday afternoon, stunning GOP legislators who have been pushing their bill toward floor votes in both the Senate and Assembly. The measure’s authors, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and state Rep. John Jagler, who has a daughter with Down syndrome, accused the governor of copying them and vowed to keep working on the legislation.

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said the governor would “happily” sign the bill if it reaches his desk. She said Evers believes protecting Wisconsin residents’ dignity is more important than who gets to claim credit.

The bill would immediately replace the phrase “mental retardation” and derivatives with “intellectual disability” in administrative code governing the state Public Service Commission as well as the departments of Health Services, Children and Families, Safety and Professional Services and Workforce Development. The measure closely mirrors legislation former Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed in 2012 removing “mental retardation” from state law.”

Evers’ order, on the other hand, requires all state agencies to remove “mental retardation” and its derivatives from their codes and to replace the term with “intellectual disability.”

Jagler said all 87 mentions of “mental retardation” in state code is in the rules governing the five agencies in the bill, however, so the legislation and the order accomplish the same thing.

However, the order requires the agencies to prepare scope statements — broad descriptions of impending rule changes — and gives them three months to submit the documents to Evers for his approval. It can take weeks more to make the actual revisions.

Jagler said the bill would get the revisions done far faster than the order since the measure would immediately amend the agencies’ codes. It also would provide a more permanent fix than an order a future governor might rescind, he said. That’s a far-fetched scenario, though, since it would mean restoring “mental retardation” to the code.

Baldauff said some Democrats asked the governor to address the issue through an executive order. Asked to name them, she pointed to Rep. Chris Taylor, a Madison Democrat. Taylor explained she advised Evers to accomplish the changes through an order because the legislative process can bog down.

“This whole thing is so ridiculous,” Taylor said. “We all want the same thing. Why don’t we do a kumbaya and celebrate?”

The Senate government operations committee approved the bill on Feb. 26, clearing the way for a vote in that chamber. The Assembly Committee on State Affairs held a public hearing on the proposal Wednesday afternoon. Jagler began the proceeding by saying he wished he had known about Evers’ order and the governor should have told the families planning to speak at the hearing about it.

No one else mentioned the order and no one spoke against the bill. Two intellectually disabled people spoke in favor of it, however. Brock Mielke, a high school senior from Hartland with Down syndrome, called the “R-word” offensive. Yael Kerzan, of Pardeeville, said she has the genetic disorder Williams syndrome and that the “R-word” is horrible and makes her feel bad.

“When I was in high school, the mean kids would call me the R-word behind my back,” she said. “I felt terrible. It is hard for me to learn easy things, but I work hard and never give up.”