In February of this year, the state decided to confiscate the Public Assistance Call Center in Milwaukee County on the grounds that Scott Walker's administration failed to provide basic services for the needy. It began when Karen Timberlake, Secretary of Health Services, released a biting letter about the "sustained inability" of Milwaukee County to meet federal standards. Liberal bloggers joined the chorus alleging that Walker maliciously understaffed the Call Center, failed to answer 30% of its benefit applications required in 7 days, and let hungry families wait weeks for food or health care services.
Not mentioned by Timberlake is that the state had routinely cut funding to the Call Center. Even Peggy West (no political ally of Walker) said she wished the state would have been more supportive.
When the state intervened, I said then on my blog that it was "political posturing". At the time, Doyle was considering a run for re-election, and Walker was his biggest political adversary. It made good sense that Doyle had a reason to embarrass Walker; and while doing so, he found the loyal support of Steven Schultze, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter who had helped their administration splash it all over the Journal Sentinel. In fact, the Department of Human Services, in an exchange of emails, referred to Schultze as a "sympathetic reporter" to their cause.
Eight months later, we discover that the state actually made things worse. Sherrie Tussler, head of the Hunger Task Force, reported to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the state is doing worse than the Milwaukee County Government. After they took over the Call Center, only 35% of applicants were getting responses within a month or less and 13% were waiting more than 3 months to get a response.In fact, it got so bad that Karen Timberlake confessed in a letter that their performance was unacceptable. This is the same Karen Timberlake, by the way, who was critical of Walker's "sustained inability" to address the same problems back in February. How fascinating.
According to Tussler, the state was ignorant about how things work in Milwaukee. Not only were they ignorant, but Tussler called them "smug" when they marched into Milwaukee County to show Scott Walker how to manage the Call Center. However, the state got so overwhelmed by a deluge of applications that they decided to stop answering the phone calls on Fridays altogether. Apparently the hungry don't need to eat on Fridays.
The Doyle administration saw an opportunity to stick one to Scott Walker using the hungry as political pawns. Instead of staffing the Call Center like they should have, the state changed management presuming Walker was the problem.
In an article I wrote in February, I said "it will be interesting to see if the state assigns additional funding to beef up their food aid and medical programs after taking control." The answer, apparently, is no. Instead of showing Walker how to manage the Call Center, they demonstrated how large government bureaucracies tend to make things worse. Somewhere Scott Walker is shaking his head thinking that Doyle always seems to find a way to make things worse.