Meet the Wiscott family.
Grandparents Warren and Winona are struggling to make ends meet, scraping by on his disability and her meager paychecks.
They have two mortgages, one dependable car and zero time to themselves — mostly thanks to their two grandchildren, 9-year-old Whitney and 7-year-old William, of whom they have custody.
“I have ADHD,” William says. “And I am a handful.”
If you’re wondering why William is so matter-of-fact, so self-aware, it’s because he is not who he says he is — at least not technically.
The role of William was played Monday by Brittany Thomas, a first-year student in Western Technical College’s occupational therapy program, as part of an exercise simulating poverty, hunger and a host of other socioeconomic challenges.
“You just don’t realize the burdens that some people face and how that can affect their health,” said Kari Reyburn, Western’s community engagement coordinator. The Poverty Simulation, as the exercise is called, was organized by the Great Rivers United Way.
“Housing and food, safety and security … it’s pretty eye-opening to see their struggles,” Reyburn said.
Students were divided into families and given sealed envelopes that contained their fates.
At the Wiscott house — which was really just four chairs arranged in a circle, one with a piece of paper that read “HOME SWEET HOME” taped to the back — Sage Swanson rubbed her hands together in anticipation.
“Please tell me we’re rich,” she said.
They were not. Like everyone else in the Lunda Center ballroom, the Wiscotts had their work cut out for them.
In the simulation, each 15-minute block represented one week in the life of an underprivileged family.
School and work demanded seven minutes apiece. Trips to the store, bank or hospital — represented by different tables — ate up several more. If they were even open, that is.
The weekend, that shimmering oasis, was little more than a mirage. Families spent it sorting out their budgets or waiting in line at the pawn shop.
“I’ve never had the poverty experience or anything like this,” said Megan Meiners, who played the 52-year-old Warren, a diabetic with mobility problems that prevented him from working.
That left Swanson, who played the 50-year-old Winona, to support the Wiscotts through her job as a cashier. Never mind that she speaks limited English and never went to college.
“Providing for your family,” she said, holding up a paycheck for $337, “is hard.”
Madelyn Miller (Whitney) and Brittany Thomas (William) found more success at school.
Miller’s good grades earned her a $50 gift card for groceries, while Thomas got the green light for a field trip after a friend loaned her the requisite $5.
“Things are looking up,” Thomas said.
While it used fake money to simulate finances and squirt guns to simulate crime, the exercise pushed students to see life through a different window, to understand that, for some people, nothing comes easily. That you should not count your chickens, even as they are hatching.
After using their precious bus passes to go to the grocery store, the Wiscotts waited in line.
The group in front complained that their child had brought a weapon to school.
The group behind complained that they had no furniture.
But the Wiscotts were riding high.
The family had enough — not plenty, but enough — to get through the next week.
The kids were earning good grades and staying out of trouble at school.
And for the first time in the simulation, what amounted to two weeks, they were about to bring home some groceries.
“We’ll be eating good tonight!” Swanson said.
A few second later, someone blew a whistle.
The owner of the grocery store, saying nothing, flipped over the sign that served as his storefront.
They were closed for business.
“You just don’t realize the burdens that some people face and how that can affect their health. Housing and food, safety and security. … It’s pretty eye-opening to see their struggles.” Kari Reyburn, Western’s community engagement coordinator
The city of La Crosse has all hands on deck to tackle snow removal and it seems to be making headway, just in time to start preparing for spring flooding as the snow melts, according to a Monday staff report given to the Board of Public Works.
While the warm weather predicted by the National Weather Service will help deal with the ice, the city is eyeing options for better tackling extreme snow and ice events, with Mayor Tim Kabat saying the city might want to take a look at its snow emergency or alternate-side parking ordinance.
The city’s utility, parks, transit and street departments have been working together to find a way to clear ice that has taken over sidewalks and encroached as far as four feet into city streets in some places, according to Doug Kerns, who manages the city’s sidewalk snow removal program.
“We really didn’t find any silver bullet that’s going to fix these extreme winters, but as requested, we talked about priority areas,” Kerns said.
The departments maxed out their resources to clear those priority areas, which include schools, bus stops and anywhere where the city boulevard is smaller than two feet wide.
“Every piece of equipment we have to load out snow is on the road,” said La Crosse streets superintendent Mike La Fleur.
The street department has been working with the La Crosse Police Department to put up temporary no-parking orders to clear narrow streets overnight, and La Fleur has two crews cutting out corners. The no-parking orders seem to work, especially on areas like Third Street near City Brewery.
“I think they realize it’s narrow and if I park here, I’m probably going to get hit,” La Fleur said.
City staff warned the board that overtime was on the rise.
Utility crews started working extra hours two weeks ago and are up to 12-hour days, both from chipping ice and snow and hauling snow away. That work put them in a good position to handle the weekend’s rain and prepare for spring flooding, utilities manager Bernard Lenz said.
“We’re trying to balance the next emergency and prepare for that,” Lenz said.
This year was particularly difficult with the rain, then snow that fell in February, especially with the subzero temperatures afterward. The result was ice as hard as rock and more difficult to remove.
“In the 10 years I’ve been running the snow-removal contract, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Kerns said.
However, the board wasn’t willing to plan for this year to be a one-off, especially after last year’s April snow showers.
“I would trust in our staff to come up with ideas to mitigate risk, because if this is going to be the norm for following winters, then we’re going to have to have a labor pool or more investment in public information and equipment and staff,” city planner Jason Gilman said.
Gilman added communication with the public would be crucial, asking for patience as the city addresses the snow and ice.
“The ice, it’s nearly impossible to have enough labor to chip it all away this time of the year. It’s just like concrete. I see neighbors out there trying,” Gilman said.
Mayor Kabat suggested leaving the decisions of when to ask staff members for overtime in the hands of department heads, but said the city’s elected officials need to review their snow emergency and alternate-side parking ordinances to look at ways to get streets cleared more efficiently. The board kicked around ideas like extending alternate-side parking all day or better enforcing it by towing vehicles that are parked illegally.
“I think we need to look at our ordinance to see what these other northern climate cities are doing,” Kabat said.
It could be a matter of life or death for narrow streets made even more so by snow, to the point where emergency vehicles can’t get through, he said.
“We really didn’t find any silver bullet that’s going to fix these extreme winters. ... We talked about priority areas. ... In the 10 years I’ve been running the snow-removal contract, I’ve never seen anything like this.” Doug Kerns, city’s snow removal program manager
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump proposed a record $4.7 trillion federal budget for 2020 on Monday, relying on optimistic 3.1 percent economic growth projections alongside accounting shuffles and steep domestic cuts to bring future spending into promised balance in 15 years.
The deficit is projected to hit $1.1 trillion in the 2020 fiscal year, the highest in a decade. The administration is counting on robust growth, including from the Republican tax cuts — which Trump wants to make permanent — to push down the red ink. Some economists, though, say the bump from the tax cuts is waning, and they project slower growth in coming years. The national debt is $22 trillion.
Even with his own projections, Trump’s budget would not come into balance for a decade and a half, rather than the traditional hope of balancing in 10.
Still, Trump contended the nation is experiencing “an economic miracle.” He said in a letter to Congress accompanying the plan that the country’s next step must be “turbocharging the industries of the future and establishing a new standard of living for the 21st century.”
Presidential budgets tend to be seen as aspirational blueprints, rarely becoming enacted policy, and Trump’s proposal for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, sets up a showdown with Congress over priorities, including his push for $8.6 billion to build the U.S-Mexico border wall.
Titled “A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First,” Trump’s proposal “embodies fiscal responsibility,” said Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Despite the large projected deficits, Vought said the administration has “prioritized reining in reckless Washington spending” and shows “we can return to fiscal sanity.”
The budget calls the approach “MAGAnomics,” after the president’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
Some fiscal watchdogs, though, panned the effort as more piling on of debt by Trump with no course correction in sight.
Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said Trump “relies on far too many accounting gimmicks and fantasy assumptions and puts forward far too few actual solutions.” She warned the debt load will lead to slower income growth and stalled opportunities for Americans.
Perhaps most notably among spending proposals, Trump is reviving his border wall fight. Fresh off the longest government shutdown in history, his 2020 plan shows he is eager to confront Congress again over the wall.
Trump’s budget proposes increasing defense spending to $750 billion — and building the new Space Force as a military branch — while reducing nondefense accounts by 5 percent, with cuts recommended to economic safety-net programs used by many Americans. The $2.7 trillion in proposed spending cuts over the decade is higher than any administration in history, they say.
The budget imposes work requirements for those receiving food stamps and other government aid as part of the cutbacks. The Department of Housing and Urban Development faces a 16 percent cut and for Education, a 12 percent reduction.
Trump’s budget would re-open two health care battles he lost in his first year in office: repealing “Obamacare” and limiting future federal spending on Medicaid for low-income people. Under the budget, both programs would be turned over to the states starting in 2021.
The plan sticks to budget caps that both parties have routinely broken in recent years. To stay within the caps, the budget shifts a portion of the defense spending, some $165 billion, to an overseas contingency fund, which some fiscal hawks will view as an accounting gimmick.
Conservatives railed for years against deficits that rose during the first years of Barack Obama’s administration as tax revenue plummeted and spending increased during the Great Recession. But even with Republican control of Congress during the first two years of the Trump administration, deficits were on a steady march upward.
The top Democrat on the Appropriation Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said the budget is “not a serious proposal.”
By refusing to raise the budget caps, Trump is signaling a fight ahead. The president has resisted big, bipartisan budget deals that break the caps — threatening to veto one last year — but Congress will need to find agreement on spending levels to avoid another federal shutdown in the fall.
The Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, called the proposed cuts to essential services “dangerous.” He said Trump added nearly $2 trillion to deficits with the GOP’s “tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations, and now it appears his budget asks the American people to pay the price,” the Democrat said.
While pushing down spending in some areas, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the proposal will seek to increase funding in others to align with the president’s priorities, according to one official.
The administration would boost Veterans Affairs funding by $6.5 billion, or 7.5 percent, and says reducing veteran suicides would be a top priority.
The budget provides $291 million to “defeat the HIV/AIDS epidemic” with hopes of eliminating 90 percent of new infections within 10 years. It would also increase resources to fight the opioid epidemic with money for prevention, treatment, research and recovery, the administration said.