Wisconsin may lose federal food aid funds due to state Supreme Court ruling
April 14, 2021
On March 31, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’s statewide mask mandate. According to Wisconsin Public Radio, the court’s ruling also struck down the governor’s ability to issue recurrent COVID-19 pandemic-related emergency declarations.
The court took more than four months to rule after hearing arguments in the suit. Its decision split 4-3 along conservative-liberal lines. Conservative GOP donor Jeré Fabick brought the lawsuit, which asserted that Evers had overstepped his authority in declaring multiple states of emergency related to COVID-19. Wisconsin law allows a governor to declare a state of emergency but limits its time period to 60 days.
Unfortunately, the ruling put at risk tens of millions of dollars in federal 2020 CARES Act aid to state families. WPR reported that the Legislative nonpartisan budget office estimates January figures of more than 240,000 Wisconsin households receiving approximately $49 million in federal food aid. Those funds are now at risk because states must have a pandemic emergency declaration in place to receive them.
The 2020 CARES Act supplements state aid to families on food benefits with additional financial support. The act allows states with a statewide state of emergency declaration in place, along with a federal emergency declaration, to request additional assistance for SNAP benefits to state families. In Wisconsin, families receiving such assistance are part of the FoodShare program.
So what does the end of additional federal food aid mean for nearly a quarter of a million Wisconsin families? According to a WKOW report, the state will lose $49,338,946 in food aid to families each month. The irony of the situation, according to the state’s Department of Health Services, is that if the ruling had come a day later, the funding would have been preserved.
Feeding Wisconsin reported that these emergency allotments allow SNAP households to receive the maximum benefits under the program. For example, pre-pandemic, a senior living in public housing getting $16/month in SNAP benefits during the pandemic receives the maximum amount allowable—$234/month—with the emergency allotments aid. That extra $218/month will go away in May under the court’s ruling.
“Because the Wisconsin State Supreme Court chose to rule March 31 and not in April, families will not receive their emergency FoodShare allotments for May…and each month after,” explained Elizabeth Goodsitt, a DHS spokesperson. This leaves “tens of thousands of families without access to much-needed nutritious foods.”
The ruling comes at a time of stress for food pantries across the country and in Wisconsin. A Feeding America study found that food insecurity rose by 28 percent on average in Wisconsin during 2020. In some state counties, food insecurity rose as high as 60 percent.
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin is the largest food bank in the state. It reported that it distributed 81 percent more food in 2020 compared to 2019. In the 35 counties the food bank serves, nearly half a million individuals received monthly FoodShare benefits in 2020.
“Today’s decision will further increase hunger in Wisconsin,” Patti Habeck said. Habeck is president and CEO of Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin. “Many of the families and individuals in our communities have been relying on these additional funds during the pandemic. Given the drastic increase in the numbers of people we are serving due to the pandemic, FoodShare has helped relive some of the tremendous pressure on the food bank and the emergency food system as a whole. Families will now be more reliant on local pantries and mobile pantries.”