It was a balmy 42 degrees at 3 a.m., but a forecast of falling temperatures, freezing rain and snow led a dozen Coulee Region schools to call off classes Thursday.
Others followed with the cancellation of afternoon classes and after-school activities.
By evening, the temperature was 15 degrees at the La Crosse Regional Airport, heading for an overnight low near zero and a return of daytime highs in the single digits and overnight lows below zero.
The precipitation wasn’t overwhelming — 0.6 inches of snow in La Crosse, 3.5 inches in Winona, 4 inches in Independence — but the snow followed icy rain and made for slippery midday driving conditions.
Winona County Engineer David Kramer encouraged common-sense measure for driving hazardous conditions.
“The primary thing is to drive appropriate for conditions,” Kramer said. “There’s a lot of things to go with that: reducing speed, anticipating curves and stops, starting to slow down earlier, giving the plows lots of room.”
The Minnesota Department of Transportation is asked drivers to use caution around snowplows and roadway snow removal operations, urging motorists to stay at least 10 car lengths behind a plow, slow down, turn off cruise control, wear a seat belt and be patient.
The department encouraged drivers to stay alert around snowplows, as a snowplow driver’s pathway may be unpredictable and can stir up a snow cloud as it plows through winter weather on the roads. Loaded with salt, a truck can weigh up to 70,000 pounds.
A quick study of the brutal two-week cold snap that struck much of the U.S. starting Christmas Day found that the Arctic blast really related to global warming but rather a freak of nature.
Frigid weather like that is 15 times rarer than it was a century ago, according to a team of international scientists who do real-time analyses to see whether extreme weather events are natural or more likely to happen because of climate change.
The cold snap that gripped the East Coast and Midwest region was a rarity that bucks the warming trend, said researcher Claudia Tebaldi of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the private organization Climate Central.
The same team had connected several weather events last year to man-made global warming including Hurricane Harvey that battered the U.S. and Caribbean and the French floods.
“It was very definitely strange, especially now,” said study co-author Gabriel Vecchi of Princeton University. A century ago “it wouldn’t have been that strange. Things like this are becoming stranger.”
The study by the World Weather Attribution analyzed weather records dating back to 1880 and found such cold spells are now less common and less intense. That finding agrees with earlier studies, said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, who wasn’t part of the study.
“I think the public frenzy over the recent cold snap illustrated that we are less acclimated to such events,” he said.
The study, based on observations and statistics, did not find evidence for a popular scientific theory that links melting Arctic sea ice to blasts of cold air escaping the top of the world.
WASHINGTON — Rewriting the rules on health care for the poor, the Trump administration said Thursday it will allow states to require “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients to work, a hotly debated first in the program’s half-century history.
Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said requiring work or community involvement can make a positive difference in people’s lives and in their health. The goal is to help people move from public assistance into jobs that provide health insurance. “We see people moving off of Medicaid as a good outcome,” she said.
But advocates said work requirements will become one more hoop for low-income people to jump through, and many could be denied needed coverage because of technicalities and challenging new paperwork. Lawsuits are expected as individual states roll out work requirements.
“All of this on paper may sound reasonable, but if you think about the people who are affected, you can see people will fall through the cracks,” said Judy Solomon of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for the poor.
Created in 1965 for families on welfare and low-income seniors, Medicaid now covers more than 70 million people, or about 1 in 5 Americans. The federal-state collaboration has become the nation’s largest health insurance program.
Beneficiaries range from pregnant women and newborns to elderly nursing home residents. Medicaid was expanded under former President Barack Obama, with an option allowing states to cover millions more low-income adults. Many of them have jobs that don’t provide health insurance.
People are not legally required to hold a job to be on Medicaid, but states traditionally can seek federal waivers to test new ideas for the program.
Verma stressed that the administration is providing an option for states to require work, not making it mandatory across the country. Her agency spelled out safeguards that states should put in place to get federal approval for their waivers.
States can also require alternatives to work, including volunteering, caregiving, education, job training and even treatment for a substance abuse problem.
The administration said 10 states have applied for waivers involving work requirements or community involvement. They are: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. Advocates for low-income people say they expect Kentucky’s waiver to be approved shortly.
In Kentucky, which expanded Medicaid, Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer said work requirements could lessen the program’s impact on the state budget. They also hearken back to the program’s original intent, he added, “as temporary assistance to try to help people get back on their feet, not a permanent subsidy for someone’s lifestyle, if they’re capable of working.”
But congressional Democrats said the Trump administration is moving in the wrong direction. “Health care is a right that shouldn’t be contingent on the ideological agendas of politicians,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees Medicaid.
The debate about work requirements doesn’t break neatly along liberal-conservative lines.
A poll last year from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 70 percent of the public supported allowing states to require Medicaid recipients to work, even as most Americans opposed deep Medicaid cuts sought by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration.
Another Kaiser study found that most working-age adults on Medicaid are already employed. Nearly 60 percent work either full time or part time, mainly for employers that don’t offer health insurance.
Most who are not working report reasons such as illness, caring for a family member or going to school. Some Medicaid recipients say the coverage has enabled them to get healthy enough to return to work.
Thursday’s administration guidance spells out safeguards that states should consider in seeking work requirements. These include:
The administration said states must fully comply with federal disability and civil rights laws to accommodate disabled people and prevent those who are medically frail from being denied coverage. States should try to align their Medicaid work requirements with similar conditions in other programs, such as food stamps and cash assistance.
The National Association of Medicaid Directors, a nonpartisan group representing state officials, said in a statement there’s no consensus on whether work requirements are the right approach.
“This is a very complex issue that will require thoughtful and nuanced approaches,” said the group.
Trump’s new direction can be reversed by a future administration. Although waivers can have lasting impact they don’t amount to a permanent change in the program. They’re considered “demonstration programs” to test ideas. The administration says the impact will be closely evaluated.
“We know that Republicans tend to think of Medicaid more as a welfare program, while Democrats tend to think of it as more of a health insurance program,” said Diane Rowland, the Kaiser foundation’s leading expert on the program. “It will be interesting to see how states are going to make this work for people.”
Willem Van Roosenbeek considers himself lucky, as a transgender individual, to have been raised in the Roman Catholic faith.
Although that may seem like an odd comment, considering the Catholic Church’s traditional view of the gay community, it is perfectly logical to the 49-year-old Van Roosenbeek.
“I grew up in a time when they said God is love,” Van Roosenbeek said Thursday as the main speaker at a meeting convened by the Mental Health Coalition of the Greater La Crosse Area.
Thus, he didn’t experience negative feelings toward members of the LGBTQ community, although that acronym didn’t even exist at the time.
A transgender man who was raised female and initially identified as a lesbian, Van Roosenbeek said he has a close nun friend with whom he recently reconnected and whose response to his coming out was, “I love you and I always will love you.”
Such positive reactions help LGBTQ members navigate the otherwise stormy waters roiled by people who don’t know about or understand the gay community, he said during the meeting, titled, “The Intersections of LGBTQ+ Identities and Mental Health.”
Gender identities and the acronym have evolved, with the plus sign a more recent addition to signify an awareness that identities abound beyond the LGBTQ without going overboard with letters, said Van Roosenbeek, who directs LGBTQ+ Programs and Services and the Pride Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
A significant example of that evolution is the term “queer,” said Van Roosenbeek, who gave the attendees a Cliff’s Notes version of terms and their meanings.
“Queer, historically, was used against them” as a method of ridicule and disdain, he said. “Young people don’t have that background.”
So the term seems natural and acceptable to the younger set, some of whom use it, while others don’t, he said.
All the same, “For somebody not in the LGBTQ community, I wouldn’t use it,” he said.
“We’re so lucky in La Crosse to have the LGBT center downtown,” he said of The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection, which was founded in 2004 and serves 11 counties in the Coulee Region.
“The center struggles, though, because people don’t want to donate to it — it’s not like the Children’s Miracle Network. Some people donate anonymously,” Van Roosenbeek said.
The center’s sponsors include the La Crosse Community Foundation, the Otto Bremer Foundation and other organizations and businesses listed on its web site.
The center sometimes is the target of hateful actions, such as the fact that its rainbow flag has been torn down twice, he said. Among other signs of animosity from some quarters are hateful comments that readers post under stories in the Tribune and TV station web sites, he said.
Such reactions are based on a lack of education and/or awareness, religious beliefs, negative messages from parents and society and lack of experience, he said.
Asked how to reverse such feelings, Van Roosenbeek said the best method is like the approach one might use with any other minority and/or marginalized group: “Once you get to know somebody and talk with them and realize ‘You’re kinda like me,’ there is a huge change.”
LGBTQ concerns also need to be addressed in schools, especially in health classes, and among health care providers, some of whom never have learned about issues that may arise, he said.
He cited a 2015 study by GLSEN, which formerly stood for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, that found LGBT students do not feel safe in Wisconsin schools, the majority had heard negative comments from other students and/or staff and 17 percent had heard homophobic comments.
Students don’t have access to LGBTQ information on the internet because schools routinely block such topics.
Among those who felt bullied or harassed, 53 percent said they would not report the incidents because their complaints wouldn’t have been taken seriously, and only 38 percent of those who did report such cases believed they were handled effectively.
LGBTQ individuals face mental health issues in addition to being bullied and harassed, including being assaulted and being targeted with verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
Murders of LGBT people simply because they are gay — 17 were reported in the United States last year — are especially brutal, often including eyes gouged out, repetitive stabbing and mutilation, especially of sex organs, he said.
Religious and spiritual rejection can be particularly damaging, “because it says you’re wrong, you’re bad,” he said.
The results include depression and addiction, as well as related issues such as homelessness after running away because of familial rejection, Van Roosenbeek said.
He mentioned trauma some students feel when they are deeply involved in LGBTQ education and activities on campus but are at a loss when their parents ask what they have been doing.
If they haven’t come out to their parents, they feel the need to make up activities, he said.
“Terminology changes so often that something can be out of date even after this meeting,” he said before explaining some terms.
A common misconception is that everything boils down to sex, but the issues are more complicated, he said.
For example, gender identification is how people feel — some identify with their birth genders, while others do not. Gender expression, on the other hand, involves how people dress and activities they prefer, which may or may not be aligned with their outward appearances.
Sexual orientation may or may not include actual sexual activity, or it can be emotional, he said.
Each category contains a host of subcategories, Van Roosenbeek said, which is why the LGBTQ+ is considered the umbrella.
The La Crosse Police Department hopes to grow its neighborhood resource officer program by two new officers this year.
The officers would be assigned to the city’s Powell-Poage-Hamilton neighborhood. The NRO program, which deploys two officers each in the city’s Washburn, downtown and Lower Northside Depot neighborhoods, began in 2014.
A $250,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant that requires a $109,077 match would fund the added positions, which would bring the department to 98 sworn officers, Assistant Chief Rob Abraham said. City leaders are working to secure the private donations.
The resolution to add the positions was introduced in the Common Council on Thursday for a vote in February.
If approved, the officers could begin work in the Powell-Poage-Hamilton neighborhood by spring.
“We believe that adding officers in that neighborhood would help contribute to the positive changes that are happening there already,” Abraham said.
NROs are free from calls assigned to patrol officers to dedicate their time to addressing quality of life issues affecting neighborhoods, including chronic nuisance properties, drug houses and homelessness. They also work to build connections with business owners, residents and other stakeholders.
“They have the time to focus on problem solving for repeat issues,” Abraham said.
The agency hopes to add an additional two NROs on the city’s North Side in the future.