For nearly a decade, Judith Hirsch, 82, has joined a small platoon of AARP Wisconsin volunteers for committee hearings at the state Legislature.
When they wear identical AARP-supplied and branded red T-shirts, they signal solidarity in a way that individuals simply cannot, says the Madison resident and retired University of Wisconsin- Madison clinical professor.
Hirsch and her fellow AARP volunteers will play an important role in advocating for policies to improve the lives of older Wisconsinites as lawmakers work to set the 2023–2024 state budget.
“We do make an impression,” says Hirsch, noting that the AARP Wisconsin red-shirt contingent often outnumbers the general public at hearings.
The Legislature’s joint finance committee will hold public hearings on the budget, which the Legislature is expected to finalize in July. Wisconsin’s budget is determined every two years.
Gov. Tony Evers (D) pledged in January to expand Medicaid—a move that AARP Wisconsin strongly supports.
AARP is also pushing for a state-facilitated retirement savings program for private-sector workers who don’t have access to such a plan through their employers.
A state-facilitated retirement savings program would help an estimated 817,000 Wisconsin workers whose employers don’t already offer a retirement plan, AARP research shows. Eight states have such programs up and running, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Retirement Initiatives.
In Wisconsin, a bill to create such an option, known as WisEARNS, failed to make it out of committee in the last legislative session. However, the retirement savings program proposal appears to have a good chance of garnering bipartisan support this year, says Martha Cranley, AARP Wisconsin state director.
AARP also supports Evers’ continued push to expand Medicaid coverage—through the state’s BadgerCarePlus program—to an estimated 90,000 adults making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $20,120 for an individual in 2023. The program currently includes adults who earn up to 100 percent of the poverty level, or $14,580 in 2023 for an individual.
Wisconsin is one of only 10 states that have not opted to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. All of its neighboring states have expanded it.
Helen Marks Dicks, AARP Wisconsin’s newly retired state issues advocacy director, hopes that a new crop of legislators elected in November will be more willing to work across the aisle. There’s been a change, “not in the balance of partisan power, but in personalities,” she says.
A $7.1 billion surplus in the state budget, thanks to federal grants intended to speed economic recovery from COVID-19, also likely means more opportunity for AARP’s priorities.
The red-shirt brigade is eager to press for AARP goals with legislators who they hope are willing to make real progress, Hirsch says.
At the first AARP event Hirsch attended, AARP Wisconsin gave an award to a Republican and a Democrat who worked together to pass a bill, she says. “There hasn’t been that kind of congeniality for quite a while.”
Go to aarp.org/wi for legislative updates.
Joanne Cleaver is a writer living in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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