Recent JONAH Testimonies: The Power of Personal Voice

By Lynn Buske and Powerful JONAH Voices

Giving public testimony is a powerful way to support an issue you care about, not only does it educate the elected official or community member you give it to, it adds another voice to an issue that has been silent, and does this through a human story – a vehicle for connection and transformation. It takes someone somewhere they may not have been before, or validates where others have been. Public testimonies are needed on every issue in so many places.

But does the idea of giving testimony seem daunting? Even if you’ve done it before it can be a seemingly intimidating challenge, but especially if you’ve never done it. Some of the fears I’ve felt myself and seen in my JONAH members: 

–       it’s hard to pick just one issue sometimes

–       we aren’t always sure what to say that could be helpful

–       we don’t feel educated on numbers, data, or policies,

–       we may not have a relationship with that legislator yet – like “who am I for them to listen to?”, 

–       there may be fears that it won’t make a difference, and 

–       that general anxiousness about something you’ve never done before. 

Another deeper fear I’ve felt and seen is simply what happens when given the opportunity to use our power – that can raise nervous energy, which can be used to back down and not see what happens or to step into it and claim it!

We all feel these things. BUT THAT SHOULDN’T STOP US! Elected officials and Legislators not only, typically, want to hear from their constituents, but more importantly, they NEED to in order to try and move the needle. My legislators always tell me they need to have on record a lot of their constituents want something before they can do something about it. 

I remember the first time I went to Madison Action Day having never sat face to face with a legislator in their office and in my head literally had the thought, “wow, legislators are just people, too.” They don’t mind that you don’t know what to say, they are just eager to listen and learn. And that issue you care about needs you to say something.

I thought to pass on some empowerment I’d share with you the testimonies that JONAH members recently gave at the Joint Finance Hearing here in Eau Claire. Some had done it before, others had not, and all of us practiced together what we’d say. All of them were stories of heart. Giving testimony is not a partisan act, it is a way to find peace for the worry you have about something in your community. Getting it off your chest and into the hands of people are here to try to do something about it.

Thank you: John Wagner (Child Poverty chair), Jackie Christner (JONAH Board member, CVJAT and Mental Health member), Pam Guthman (CVJAT member), Ken Hood (Rural Organizer), and Greg Habben (partner at NAMI)

Childcare – by Ken Hood

I’m a single father living in Cameron, part of Representative Armstrong’s district. I love my children and make sacrifices for them so that I can have quality time with them. Family is number one. I struggle, however, to balance time caring for my kids and time working. I know other working parents in rural Wisconsin face the same challenge. When the school year is over I get anxious. I rely on the local  Boys and Girls Club. Last summer, I would not have been able to afford child care without that program. My son is only 7. When he is ignored for long stretches of time, it’s hard on him. He’ll act out by bothering other kids, drawing on the walls, closing up emotionally. His mom works a busy retail shift, so between the two of us, it can be a challenge to make sure he has someone to watch him. With the lack of affordable childcare spots in northwest Wisconsin, I worry about how families like mine will continue. I want to see quality programs up here that teach social skills and encourage kids to think about science and math.

I’m asking for the committee to approve 350 million dollars in the next budget to cover the continuation of Childcare Counts in Wisconsin. We need this money to keep current child care programs open and to keep parents in the workforce. In addition, our state must step up and help fund early care and early childhood education as a public good.

Healthcare, by Pamela Guthman

I am here to share my perspective as an advanced doctoral prepared public/population health nurse, with nearly 40 years of nursing which started right here on this campus. I have also taught here and at UW-Madison, both public health and nursing students at the undergraduate and graduate level. My advanced degree’s focus is on prevention and improving the health and wellness of all populations, with a special interest in rural populations.

Research shows that when we can prevent disease, or the loss of lives, or disabilities, and/or illness, we have not only a healthier population, with families and individuals having to take less time off due to illness, but we also have a more productive society which means that prevention makes sense and financial cents (America’s Health Rankings, 2022).

Today, I am here to encourage you to support several things that are needed to get our population back on track for being healthier. This means supporting the expansion of Medicaid funding, so that the populations who currently do not qualify would have access to health care, including mental health. I also encourage you to support a Badger Care Public Option, a board for prescription drug affordability, and public health funding (including workforce for public health, especially public health and school nurses). 

This would include funding for foundational services and best public health practices. Lastly, but not least, we need investment in nursing faculty, and of course UWEC’s new sciences building which is so desperately needed!

You might wonder why these are the positions I am taking; but as a nurse, who provides services and programs, as well as research at the population-level, the evidence is very strong that when we invest in prevention and upstream approaches, it makes a difference in the lives of people. You see, not one of us is immune from experiencing a life-threatening illness, disease or injury to ourselves or to one of our loved ones. Over the last few decades, we have seen a dissolution of our public health infrastructure. As a public health nurse, I have worked with young families, one of which who was nearly freezing to death in a trailer in mid-January, with their toddler’s shoes frozen to the floor. The parents initially assured me they had sufficient food, after all they were working for minimum wage. Yet, when I checked their cupboards and found them bare, they admitted they didn’t have sufficient food, nor funding for the medicine their toddler needed for the ear infection. They were so very proud and didn’t want to accept any help. Thankfully, I had several months of a trusting relationship with them, and I convinced them I could help with resources to get their toddler’s antibiotic costs covered, as well as food and diapers for them, and also heat for their trailer. You see, kindness and resources to meet one’s basic human and family’s needs are critically important for the stabilization and health of all families.

This is just one of many examples of families who are struggling, and of whom are in need of support of health care funding, transportation, food security, and a wage that will assure they can pay their heating, food, or medication bills. We see this same type of need by Veterans and our aging seniors, as one’s health is impacted in various ways. It appears to me that our society “judges and stigmatizes” the person, by not supporting their optimal opportunity to obtain health when we do not embrace policies and investments for the health of ALL people. For a man who is homeless and who is shuffling by, do you realize he served our country, and is fighting the trauma from war, but uses alcohol and drugs to cope and escape the nightmares that haunt him and is now dealing with the grip of addiction? What about the youth who woke up after a viral illness and now is an insulin dependent diabetic, whose family was initially struggling to make ends meet now has an additional financial and health challenge of frequent health care visits and a medication like insulin needed for this teen to live? Or, what about the senior who was diagnosed with cancer, lives alone and is no longer able to work, ill and weak as a kitten from chemotherapy, but who can not afford to hire a supportive care worker to help her with her personal cares and needs?

We need investments and policies that prioritize Medicaid expansion, a public Badger Care option, access to preventive services including reproductive healthcare, prevention of tobacco, vaping, opioid, and alcohol addictions, and certainly treatments, as well as mental health. We need investments in public health funding, senior supportive cares, and in the public health workforce, especially in the nursing workforce including faculty to teach our bright young people in Wisconsin, when they seek careers as they build upon their primary education with financial support of our public schools who serve everyone. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Mental Health, by Jacquelyn Christner

Members of the WI Joint Finance Committee, I am here today because I have fought for accessible health care since my son Ryan was a child with ADHD. Because I was a teacher in the Fall Creek School District, I had what was considered good insurance then, but it did not pay for the cost of a therapist. I fought for mental health equity too late, although the Affordable Care Act passed later did help somewhat. My son, after developing schizophrenia in his 20’s became caught in our legal system. His life without good mental health care became unbearable. I worked to develop the Eau Claire County Mental Health Court and served on its advisory board

and felt fortunate that Ryan was admitted to the program. I have for years advocated for large increases in Treatment, Alternatives, and Diversions from incarceration with very minor success.

None of my work was enough! Unfortunately, my son died of an overdose of his prescription opioid medication early New Year’s Day 2010 at age 35. He became a statistic, a number among a hugely growing number of lives lost to mental illness and/or addiction. How many more people are we willing to sacrifice to get our legislature to fix the problem?

The problem is that only a privileged few have access to professional therapists, and even they

have long wait times to get an appointment. The reason is that there are not enough psychiatrists, psychologists, and other therapists to come anywhere close to meeting the need, even for those who have good insurance. This situation results in a cost to society in loss of ability to engage in school and work, which affects businesses, creates more homelessness, instability in families, more public assistance, more victims of violence, more incarceration, and more disparity in the economy due to the stigma endured by people with mental illness or addiction. We must hold our legislature responsible for making mental health care and all health care easily accessible to everyone, not just the privileged, because it is the right thing to do.

How can our legislature do this? First, by passing the Badger Care Expansion, including a Badger Care Public Option to lower all health care costs. Second, create and fund programs to incentivize students to become mental health professionals. Third, recognize the importance of

training certified peer specialists by funding programs for increased training in peer support, and increase salaries of peer mentors and all mental health care workers. Legislators, put our taxes to work solving the problem of access to mental health care and all health care in WI!

Public Education, by Chris Hambuch-Boyle

I have listened to every testimony given in the first 3 JFC hearings. As part of the WI Public Education Network…we seriously track the concerns shared at the hearings. By far, the appropriate funding of your public schools has risen to the top in all 3 hearings so far. What hasn’t been shared as often is the fact that your public schools also fund the Wisconsin Parental Choice and the Special Needs Scholarship programs through exemptions and deductions to their local public school budgets…money that is diverted to pay for private schools…a voucher system that has grown in biennial budgets without the knowledge of most of your taxpaying constituents. These taxpaying constituents often pay for repeated referendums all the while not knowing they are also paying for private school tuition. It is time to be transparent.

Let’s take Senate District 12, which touches 40 public school districts including Minocqua where we are today. The help I can offer, we can offer from the Network, is to provide you with the information you need to make decisions on whether you expand Choice in this budget or stop and take the time to look at your constituent data, have deep conversations in your caucuses and with your constituents on whether that is the right thing to do at this time. Most of the children in my example of SD 12 and most Senate Districts for that matter are educated in public schools. Right now, 75% of the 40 public school districts in SD 12 are impacted by the WI Parental Choice Program to the tune of $8.2 million for just 975 children enrolled in private, mostly religious schools in just this school year alone. Add on another $300,000 deduction from across 5 SD 12 districts for the SNSP and that is a whopping total of $8.5 million just in SD 12 alone. The expansion of the WPCP is part of the reason many of your districts have to go to referendum for operational costs. All of your constituents that send their kids to public schools need to know this, need to be part of the conversation on whether or not it should be expanded. The expansion has to be OK with the majority of people in the state. They haven’t even been asked yet.

So how can I help…how can the Network help…we can get legislators and your constituents the information you and they need to really think through your next steps regarding school choice in Wisconsin. Use us, we are here to help everyone who cares about the future of their public schools. I thank you for your time.

Badgercare Expansion and Childcare, by Julia Bennker

I live and work in Eau Claire. I am a childcare provider living with mental illness, working just enough to survive but not too much so as to lose my Badgercare and SNAP benefits. I was diagnosed just after I finished college. For me, one of the only prescription drugs I can take is very expensive.

This drug costs about $1,000 per month. On top of that, my condition requires regular therapy visits, doctor visits, lab work, and several other prescriptions. It is not possible for me to work full time due to my condition. I work closely with my doctor to design a lifestyle that keeps me healthy. That means I need to work part-time so I can do what I need to do to stay well. Further, this means that I won’t be able to get benefits from an employer and I continue to rely on Badgercare and hopefully Badgercare Expansion.

There was a period of about a month that I made too much money for Medicaid because I took on more hours at a childcare center. In that month, I had to find my own insurance to continue to receive my critical medications and other services. In order to get my medication covered, I had to prove that at least two other medications of its type were ineffective for my treatment. Even after that, I still had to pay quite a bit for the prescription. I decided it was better for me financially to work less hours and go back to being eligible for Medicaid coverage again.

I am a professional in an in-demand field but, because Badgercare Expansion has been blocked in Wisconsin, I have to work less in order to afford what I need to take care of myself and be helpful to others. We have a shortage of childcare providers in this state.

Do we really need childcare workers, during a time of childcare shortage, cutting their hours just so they can stay on the medication their doctor prescribes? BadgerCare expansion can help us solve this childcare crisis. We need Badgercare Expansion to be accepted into this budget so that thousands of other people like me can get the care they need.

Mental Health, by Greg Habben

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Greg Habben, I live in the city of Eau Claire and I am a retired General Dentist who practiced in Eau Claire for 39 years. I am a member of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Board President of the local affiliate NAMI Chippewa Valley. I ask you to include the full $500 million proposed in the 2023-2025 Executive Budget for mental health.

This is the right time to invest in our state’s mental health services because more people are aware of the importance of mental health now than ever before, and more are willing to ask for help. Our current Mental Health Services are overwhelmed with long wait times for needed care the result. We must do what it takes to give timely, effective, caring service to help children and adults in Wisconsin recover and thrive when they face a mental health challenge.

As a family member of individuals living with a mental health condition, I understand how vital it is to invest in mental health care services. I’d like to focus on Regional Crisis Urgent Care Centers. For those who need somewhere safe to go, Wisconsin needs regional crisis urgent care centers to fill a gap in our crisis response system. I ask you to include at least $10.1 million in the budget to develop these psychiatric emergency centers. They will take walk-ins and people brought by first responders for voluntary or involuntary assessment, crisis care and referral.  These centers will give immediate expert care to people in crisis and help people stay out of costly emergency rooms, hospitals, and jails.

As a family member of someone who lives with a mental health condition, when my son has been in crisis he will visit the local emergency rooms repeatedly because he has nowhere else to go. In January of 2022, during a recent mental health crisis he visited ERs at least 15 times, on one occasion 3 times in the same day! This is a waste of resources when he really does not need to be there and would be better served if there were a Crisis Center he could go to and address his concerns and receive help there instead. This is the value that these Regional Crisis Urgent Care centers would provide.

Thank you for listening to my experience.  I urge you to include the whole $500 million for mental health as proposed in the Executive Budget.  I especially ask you to include at least $10.1 million to develop Regional Crisis Urgent Care Centers.

Badgercare Expansion – John Wagner

Wisconsin is one of only 10 states that have not accepted the expanded federal Medicaid funds that have been offered since 2014. That needs to change. Wisconsin needs to accept the federal money offered so we can expand Badgercare. In recent years, the state has used Wisconsin taxpayer money to pay for some of the gaps in Badgercare that would have been filled with the federal money. Still, in 2020 it is estimated that 120,000 additional Wisconsinites would have health coverage, and the state’s uninsured rate would drop by 16%, if we had accepted the federal money. And by refusing to follow the path chosen by 40 states and the District of Columbia, Wisconsin will forfeit approximately $1.6 billion over the next two years. Badgercare expansion is not a partisan issue. States controlled by both major political parties have accepted the federal money and have expanded their versions of Badgercare. In Wisconsin, polls show that about 70% of all residents support Badgercare expansion.

The savings from accepting the Medicaid expansion would make it possible for the state to fund benefits that would help working people to stay healthier and reduce costly medical treatment. Wisconsin could also invest more in public health and community health workers, and in “nonmedical services such as housing referrals, nutritional mentoring, stress management, and other services that positively impact a person’s economic and social condition.”

Did you know that the life expectancy in the poorest Wisconsin county is 22 years less than the life expectancy in the wealthiest Wisconsin county? Our first responsibility as a state is to look after the safety, health and well-being of our people, especially those who are the most vulnerable. We should take all reasonable measures to ensure that Wisconsinites are not driven into bankruptcy and deeper poverty by a medical emergency.

Please don’t play political games with its people’s health. We must join the rest of the country by accepting the federal money to expand Badgercare, to improve health of our residents, and to save Wisconsin taxpayer money.

Wisconsin Facts

• 80% of a child’s health is impacted by health systems. Only 20% is genetic.

• Only 30% of Wisconsin children are covered by Medicaid compared to 50% of children in the US.

• The toxic stress and the trauma of poverty lead to a wide array of preventable chronic diseases including mental illness, food insecurity, crime and violence, police brutality, poor housing, toxic environments, a shortened life span and generally poor access to opportunities for meeting basic needs.

• Early investments in health care significantly improve adult health outcomes and reduce the public cost of health care.

• Life expectancy in Menomonee County is 22.4 years LESS than in Osaukee County. Median income in Menomonee County is $31,000 compared to $91,000 in Osaukee County. In Wisconsin, wealth buys years of life.

Badgercare Expansion, by Lynn Buske

Good afternoon everyone, thank you for being here. My name is Lynn Buske, I’m a community organizer with the non-profit JONAH. Honestly, I’m nervous to speak today not because it’s public speaking but beccause I’m afraid my talking about Badgercare expansion is going to be judged and ignored. When my son Sebastian was born, the income from my County job at the time was almost exactly what the cost to put my two children in childcare. I know that birth-5 years are crucial. I saw no reason to leave my children with strangers while I turned my entire paycheck over to them. I left my job and went on Badgercare to raise my children and support their health. We are so grateful for this. When I started working for a non-profit my small income kept me on Badgercare, but in a couple of months we will no longer qualify.  my non-profit cannot afford to pay my healthcare. My husband is a small business owner so he has no health care through his work. I have no idea what we’re going to do for our family. Healthcare should not be this hard. 

As scared as I am, I still have privilege and support that many others don’t. So I’m here today not just for myself but advocating for people like my aunt. I lost my aunt when she was 50 years old, because her ineligibility to Badgercare led her to believe her only affordable heath coping option, in her mind, to be alcohol. She felt unsupported, crazy and alone – and drank herself to death. And all who loved her have a hole that cannot be filled. This should not happen. I hear stories all the time in my job – it DOES happen over and over.

Accept the federal funding to expand Badgercare – the money is already there it is not taken from somewhere else. WI is one of the only 10 states not to do this. The savings from accepting the Medicaid expansion would make it possible for the state to fund benefits that would help working people to stay healthier and reduce costly medical treatment. Even if we lose the funding later – because even short term support can get people back on track with their health and moving forward in their lives. Thank you.