Susan Lampe fears that thousands of Wisconsinites will soon lose not only a ride to the doctor, but also the right to pick their health care providers.
Beginning July 1, the state is scheduled to begin using an out-of-state company, Atlanta-based LogistiCare, to arrange rides for people receiving medical assistance, taking this role over from county governments. The company, which has set up a call center in Madison, provides this service in other states.
Critics say the company makes money by denying rides to as many people as possible. When a ride is requested, clients are reportedly asked a series of questions, such as whether they can walk, take a bus or have a family member drive them.
The system is expected to save the state about $5 million over two years.
"Their goal is to get people on free transportation and then possibly reimburse people for a bus pass," says Lampe, a disabled client who lives in downtown Madison. "It's going to be a real uneven set of circumstances because some people don't have family or friends available during the day."
Those who rely on the service include veterans, the disabled and low-income residents. Elderly residents are not affected by the system.
Lampe fears many clients will also be forced to change to health care providers nearer their homes.
Ray Blanco, a company representative in charge of setting up contracts with cab companies, would not comment to Isthmus about how LogistiCare will operate in Wisconsin, saying, "you're not a transportation company." He referred Isthmus to the corporate office, but did not know whom the paper should speak with.
Although the change is coming as Gov. Scott Walker tries to push through a budget with drastic cuts to human services, he did not initiate this change - former Gov. Jim Doyle did.
"It's a horrible move on the part of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services," says Carl DuRocher, an advocate for public transportation. "It's further disappointing that we can't even blame it on Walker this time."
Keeping up the fight
The protests that erupted in February helped galvanize the left against Gov. Scott Walker's agenda. But they couldn't be sustained forever: Eventually, people stopped sleeping in the Capitol and went back to work or school.
But with the Legislature deliberating on the budget this week, Ken Dunbeck is hoping for a repeat performance. A substitute teacher, Dunbeck helped form the People's Bratfest. And on Wednesday, it organized a "Take Back the Bus" event to encourage people to ride the bus and thank drivers for their service.
"You can do more than go to a protest," Dunbeck says. "You can go thank a public worker. As the son of a Milwaukee bus driver, it's exciting for me to go say 'thank you.'"
The larger message, Dunbeck says, is don't despair. The protests this spring didn't stop the Republicans, but they attracted worldwide notice, energized opposition and spurred recall campaigns.
"We need that to happen again," he says, "because this budget is 1,000 times worse than anything we've seen."
No room at the shelter
Maj. Paul Moore doesn't like having to turn homeless families away from the Salvation Army Shelter. But these days, he doesn't have much choice.
There aren't enough beds for all the families that need help.
"We've looked at expansion," Moore says. "To be honest, I don't know if there's community will for any of the shelters to expand. I think it's needed, but you can't do anything by yourself."
The Salvation Army on East Washington operates three shelters: a family shelter with 60 beds (which is always full and last week had a waiting list of 55), a single-women's shelter with 30 beds (which is usually filled over capacity) and an emergency shelter with 16 beds (which has often turned away people in the past month).
Despite the increased demand, the Salvation Army faces a $60,000 deficit for next year, and funds are shrinking fast under Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget. The shelter expects to lose $20,000 in state funding. And about $700,000 of its funding comes from Dane County, which is facing its own cut from state. Oh, and the check it gets every January from the federal government still hasn't arrived.
The Salvation Army is the primary place for homeless families and women to find shelter in Madison, though there are other options, including the YWCA and some churches. But Moore says these places are also overtaxed.
"There's more demand and no more supply. We need to increase the supply," he says. "If I doubled my shelter tomorrow, it'd be full by next week."