Evers has about $300 million more in federal aid he can spend to fight COVID-19

MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers has about $300 million more in federal aid he can use to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.

So far the Democratic governor has earmarked $1.7 billion of the nearly $2 billion in federal aid he controls, according to Wisconsin officials. That money is going toward testing, hospitals, local governments, small businesses, renters and others.

The governor must spend the money by the end of the year or return it to the federal government under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, popularly known as the CARES Act. 

Evers is holding onto some of the money as he monitors how the pandemic might change in the last 4½ months of 2020.

For instance, if hospitals need more money than initially thought, he could use some of the remaining funds to help them. By the same token, if some anticipated costs are less than initially believed, Evers would have more available to spend on other matters.

The federal aid provides Evers with a rare opportunity to spend large sums without the permission of Republicans who control the Legislature. State funds must be appropriated by lawmakers, but Evers has wide latitude to spend the CARES money as he sees fit.

He has prioritized putting money toward the state’s health response but has also dedicated substantial amounts toward helping bolster the state’s economy.

“Testing and contact tracing will continue right up until Dec. 31 and it will hopefully ratchet up as we move forward,” Evers told reporters Thursday. “We will do everything in our power to make sure we continue to do that. That is the overall first priority.”

The Evers administration on Thursday published an online dashboard that explains how the money is being used.

Here’s a breakdown of what he’s authorized so far:

Hospital capacity: $445 million. These funds are meant to make sure there are enough beds available in case there is a surge of cases that overwhelm hospitals. Some of the funds were used to prepare for a field hospital at State Fair Park. The state may not need all of these funds, and if that’s the case Evers could reallocate them for other purposes.

Testing: $260 million. This money is being used to conduct COVID-19 testing around the state. 

Emergency operations: $200 million. These funds are being used by the state’s Emergency Operations Center and state agencies that are leading the pandemic response.

Personal protective equipment: $150 million. More than 10 million masks, face shields, gowns and other supplies are being provided to front-line workers.

Local governments: $200 million. Evers gave counties $95 million, municipalities $95 million and tribes $10 million for their own response efforts.

Care facilities and services: $100 million. Evers provided long-term care facilities, community-based service organizations and emergency providers with $100 million. How much individual organizations receive is tied to the services they provide under Medicaid, the health-care program run jointly by the state and federal governments.

Contact tracing: $75 million. This money is used so public health officials know who those infected with the coronavirus have been around, allowing them to better contain the spread of the illness.

Small businesses: $75 million. Evers made these funds available to small businesses that have struggled, particularly those that hit hard times during the spring shutdown of the state.

Farmers: $41.6 million. Evers made $50 million available to farmers to help cover their losses, of which $41.6 million was claimed.

Ventilators: $40 million. Evers dedicated some of the funds for ventilators because early on hospitals feared they would not have enough of them.

University of Wisconsin System: $32 million. Evers recently allocated these funds for additional testing and protective equipment so UW campuses can conduct some classes in person. 

Renters: $25 million. Evers gave cash payments to people to help cover their rent. 

Pantries: $15 million. Evers used this money to stock pantry shelves as more people turned to them when they were laid off. 

$1 billion more targeted for Wisconsin

In addition to the money Evers controls, more than $1 billion in CARES money flowed into Wisconsin for specific purposes, according to state Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Under formulas set by Congress, more than $400 million in Wisconsin went to K-12 schools and higher education institutions. In addition, $103 million went to Milwaukee, $62 million to Milwaukee County and $95 million to Dane County. 

More than $200 million was provided for transit agencies and more than $50 million was made available to child-care providers. More than $20 million went toward housing. The rest of the money went to other areas, including law enforcement, energy assistance, violence prevention and the arts.

Congress has been debating giving additional aid to states and local governments, but talks between Republicans and Democrats have stalled. Evers has pushed for additional help. 

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.