Undocumented qualify for rental relief; Dem campaign spending fails to make a dent; 200 WI communities get disputed election grants; Enbridge delays leak report; some lawmakers mum on vaccine plans


Of note: This week we highlight a story by Wisconsin Watch’s Vanessa Swales, who found the state is sending mixed signals about who qualifies for Wisconsin’s $322 million emergency rental assistance program. Congress left eligibility for the massive relief program open to non-U.S. citizens. But some intake documents for the Wisconsin program ask applicants for Social Security numbers. That potentially discourages qualifying non-citizens from applying. Program administrators say they aren’t trying to discourage any applicants — and any struggling Wisconsin renter should apply.

Access to some stories listed in the Wisconsin Weekly roundup may be limited to subscribers of the news organizations that produced them. We urge our readers to consider supporting these important news outlets by subscribing. 

Want even more news about how the pandemic is reshaping the state? Subscribe to our Wisconsin COVID-19 Update.

Thanks for reading!

To have the free Wisconsin Weekly newsletter (as well as story alerts and news about the Center) delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here! You can change your preferences at any time.


Immigration status has no bearing on eligibility for the Wisconsin Emergency Rental Assistance program. But at least eight of the 14 organizations administering it ask applicants to share their Social Security numbers through pre-screening forms. Advocates say that could deter qualifying renters who are among Wisconsin’s roughly 75,000 undocumented immigrants. Credit: Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch

Undocumented immigrants qualify for rent relief, but Wisconsin sends mixed signals

Wisconsin Watch — March 29, 2021

Some regional nonprofits administering Gov. Tony Evers’ $322 million emergency rental assistance program may be unintentionally discouraging non-U.S. citizens from applying — even though immigration status holds no bearing on eligibility for the federally financed program. At least eight of the 14 organizations administering the Wisconsin Emergency Rental Assistance (WERA) program ask applicants to share their Social Security numbers through pre-screening forms, a Wisconsin Watch review has found. In some cases, applicants are asked to submit the Social Security numbers of every member of their household. Advocates say such queries could deter struggling renters who are among Wisconsin’s roughly 75,000 undocumented immigrants — an economically vulnerable group that in 2016 comprised about 24% of the state’s immigrant population and 1.3% of the total population.

Related coverage from Wisconsin Watch: Struggling to pay rent? Here’s how to get help

Former state Supreme Court candidate Marla Stephens attends a March 7, 2018, rally organized by the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition held outside the Wisconsin State Capitol. Experts say Wisconsin’s gerrymandered districts make it very difficult for Democrats to gain seats in the Legislature. Credit: Cameron Smith / For Wisconsin Watch

Republicans keep grip on Legislature despite Democratic spending spree

The Badger Project/Wisconsin Watch — March 31, 2021

Wisconsin Democrats were flush with cash in the 2020 election cycle. Billionaire liberals like Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other super rich donors used a loophole in Wisconsin campaign finance law to dump money into the coffers of the Democratic Party, which routed a considerable chunk of contributions to state legislative candidates. More favorable to Democrats in the last election, the loophole allowed four Democratic candidates and one Republican to destroy the previous record for most cash raised for a Wisconsin state legislative race. Each candidate brought in at least $1 million, most of it from their party. The result: Democrats achieved a negligible gain, picking up a couple of seats in the Assembly and losing two more seats in the Senate.

Election workers perform duties at the Central Count location for the city of Green Bay on Nov. 3, 2020. Credit: Sarah Kloepping / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Republicans focus on election grants to five cities that favor Democrats, but more than 200 Wisconsin communities got funds

USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin — March 31, 2021

Republican lawmakers focused in a hearing Wednesday on Green Bay and other Democratic strongholds that used private funds to help run last year’s elections, but more than 200 communities across the state received grants to facilitate voting during a pandemic. Election officials say they acted appropriately when they accepted assistance from the Center for Tech and Civic Life and the National Vote at Home Institute to deal with an unprecedented wave of mail voting because of COVID-19. The nonprofit center used donations from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to fund grants aimed at helping local governments conduct safe elections. The conservative Wisconsin Voters Alliance repeatedly sued over the use of the funds — but state and federal courts rejected its lawsuits.

Jefferson County resident Ronni Monroe called Enbridge Energy’s delay in reporting the spill “reprehensible.” Credit: John Hart / Wisconsin State Journal

Jefferson County residents question Enbridge response to 2019 pipeline spill

Wisconsin State Journal — March 27, 2021

Jefferson County residents are questioning why Enbridge Energy took 21 days to repair a leaking underground pipeline that spilled more than 1,200 gallons of petroleum near Fort Atkinson, contaminating soil and groundwater, and did not report the spill to regulators for more than 15 months. The leak from 2019 was not reported until last summer. Meanwhile, toxic chemicals have been detected in groundwater at thousands of times the state limits, according to a report filed earlier this year with the Department of Natural Resources. Environmental consultants for the Canadian pipeline company say the spill affects about 3.5 acres of farmland less than half a mile from the Rock River near Lake Koshkonong.

Most Wisconsin lawmakers say they plan on getting COVID-19 vaccine

Wisconsin State Journal — April 2, 2021

Virtually all of the Wisconsin lawmakers who responded to a Wisconsin State Journal inquiry said they have or plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine. A few said they would not get vaccinated; the majority of Republicans did not respond. The State Journal asked each member of the Wisconsin Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation if they had received the COVID-19 vaccine or if they planned to do so. At a town hall meeting in Hudson on Monday, U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, falsely claimed no one under the age of 19 has died from the disease in Wisconsin. He also said he has discouraged his adult daughters from getting vaccinated. The 54 state lawmakers who responded as of Thursday morning included 40 of 50 Democratic lawmakers and 14 of 80 Republicans.

The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.