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Negotiations continue; shutdown goes on

WASHINGTON

The government shutdown will extend into the workweek as the Senate appeared to inch closer to ending a partisan stalemate late Sunday but fell short of agreement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said negotiations were still underway into the night, with a vote to break a Democratic filibuster on a short-term funding bill scheduled for noon today. Seeking to win over holdout votes, McConnell pledged Sunday that the Senate would take up legislation on some top Democratic priorities, including immigration, if they aren’t already addressed by Feb. 8.

“We have yet to reach an agreement on a path forward,” Schumer said, adding that talks would continue.

McConnell’s commitment follows hours of behind-the-scenes talks between the leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers over how to end the two-day display of legislative dysfunction. The Senate adjourned without voting Sunday, guaranteeing the shutdown would continue into a third day.

Republicans have appeared increasingly confident that Democrats were bearing the brunt of criticism for the shutdown and that they would ultimately buckle. The White House and GOP leaders said they would not negotiate with Democrats on immigration until the government is reopened.

There were indications Sunday that Democratic resolve was beginning to waver, with growing worries that a prolonged shutdown could prove to be an electoral headache for the party just as they have grown confident about their prospects in November.

Discussions took place behind closed doors throughout the day with few outward signs of progress, as lawmakers took turns delivering animated speeches to near empty chambers to explain why the other party is to blame. Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer met off the Senate floor in the early evening, as many in quiet Capitol offices flipped their television screens to playoff football games.

As lawmakers feuded, signs of the shutdown were evident at national parks and in some federal agencies. Social Security and most other safety-net programs were unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions continued, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay.

Lawmakers were mindful that the political stakes would soar this morning, when thousands of federal workers would be told to stay home or, in many cases, work without pay. What was still a weekend burst of Washington dysfunction could spiral into a broader crisis with political consequences in November’s midterm elections.

That threat prompted a bipartisan group of Senate moderates to huddle for a second day Sunday in hopes of crafting a plan to reopen the government. The contours of that proposal were still taking shape Sunday evening. In exchange for Democratic votes on a three-week spending measure, the GOP leadership in the Senate would agree to address immigration policy and other pressing legislative matters in the coming weeks.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said the potential deal would not secure an immediate vote on immigration tied to reopening the government, but lawmakers were seeking “an agreement that we would proceed to immigration.”

The approach found advocates in South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been trying to broker an immigration deal, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, both Republicans who rejected an earlier short-term proposal. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, another previous no-vote, announced he would vote in favor of reopening the government today.

Shortly before 7 p.m. Sunday, Graham said no deal had been reached by the moderate group because Democrats were not yet on board. “To my Democratic friends, don’t overplay your hand,” he told reporters. “A government shutdown is not a good way to get an outcome legislatively.”

Schumer indicated earlier Sunday that he would continue to lead a filibuster of the stopgap spending measure, while congressional Republicans appeared content to let the pressure build on the second day of the government shutdown. After Senate Democrats blocked a temporary government-wide funding bill Friday night, both parties engaged in furious finger-pointing.

Democrats, who initially dug in on a demand for legislation to protect about 700,000 immigrants who were brought illegally to the country as children, shifted to blame the shutdown on the incompetence of President Donald Trump and the Republican leadership. Republicans argued that Democrats shuttered the government over “illegal immigration” in a bid to gin up enthusiasm among their base.

“I think they miscalculated on the shutdown,” Cornyn said. “It’s very unpopular and they’re trying to find a way out of it.”

Absent a breakthrough, the vote today will prove to be a test of unity and resolve among Democrats. Five Democrats from states won by Trump broke ranks in a vote Friday. The measure gained 50 votes to proceed to 49 against, but 60 were needed to break a Democratic filibuster.

Trump, who regularly disrupted negotiations in recent weeks, had been a relatively subdued player in the weekend debate. He has not appeared in public since Friday afternoon. The White House said he was in regular contact with Republican leaders, but he has not reached out to any Democrats, a White House official said.

Sunday morning on Twitter, he called on the GOP-controlled Senate to consider deploying the “nuclear option”—changing Senate rules to end the filibuster—and reopen the government with a simple majority.

McConnell has dismissed that option, saying Republicans will welcome the filibuster when they return to being the Senate minority.

Democrats are facing intense pressure from their base to solve the issue over the young immigrants, and they are skeptical of Republicans’ credibility when offering to deal. Whether Trump would back the emerging plan or any later proposal on immigration is an open question. Even if the Senate voted on an immigration proposal, its prospects in the House would be grim.

Furthermore, Democrats view Trump as an infuriating bargaining partner, pointing chiefly to his failed 11th-hour talks with Schumer on Friday. The Democrat says Trump expressed support for a fix for the young immigrants in return for financing for Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border—only to back off hours later. The White House says Schumer and the president never came to terms.

“How can you negotiate with the president under those circumstances where he agrees face to face to move forward with a certain path and then within two hours calls back and pulls the plug?” asked Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.


Government
top story
Janesville rent assistance waiting list grows as cuts loom and rental market tightens

JANESVILLE

Deb Stover and her dog, Maggie May, enjoy a quiet life at their Village Green apartment on Janesville’s northeast side.

In their one-bedroom home, they keep each other company while Stover reads or plays games. Throughout the year, the two go to the Hedberg Public Library to tutor kids in reading while Maggie gets plenty of adoration from kids.

It’s a relatively carefree life, and Stover, 67, said she owes some of that to Janesville’s rent assistance program.

The federally funded program helps hundreds of local families each year by partially paying participants’ rents, but the city’s waiting list for rent assistance continues to grow as federal funding cuts are expected and a tightening Janesville rental market pushes rents higher.

The city Neighborhood & Community Services Department is helping 510 families with rent assistance and has 819 families on a waiting list. About 760 families were on the waiting list in October 2016, and 780 were on the list when applications closed in 2014.

“(There’s) definitely a lot of discouraged families when they come through the door and we tell them where we are on the list and that it’s going to be a long wait,” said Jennifer Petruzzello, neighborhood and community services director.

Janesville clearly has a big need, she said.

Stover is better off than most rent assistance participants. At least 75 percent in the program are in a lower income bracket than Stover, Petruzzello said.

But a large chunk of those who qualify spend years on a waiting list before getting help. The city is just now beginning to assist those who signed up 21 months ago, she said.

“In nearly two years’ time, that’s how far we’ve been able to get,” Petruzzello said.

After taking applications for nearly two years and with hundreds on the waiting list, the department decided to close applications Jan. 8. It could be years before residents can apply again and years after that before they’re helped.

Waiting years

On April 7, 2016, the Neighborhood & Community Services Department began accepting rent assistance applications after nearly two years of accepting none.

Some residents waited outside the building hours before it opened in hopes of being among the first to sign up. They knew applying early could mean the difference between getting help that spring or waiting years, Petruzzello said.

“The first people who applied in April 2016 were assisted within a month, but now, here we are almost two years in, and we’re still (helping those who signed up) on the same day,” Petruzzello said. “So people who applied that afternoon ... are already waiting two years, and they’ve got more to go.”

More than 700 applied for rent assistance the first week in April 2016, including about 400 on the first day. City Hall used the city council chambers and a neighboring room to process the crush of applicants. The Neighborhood & Community Services Department pulled employees from other city departments to help, Petruzzello said.

That was not the worst it’s been.

In March 2014, the department accepted applications after almost four years of accepting none. More than 1,100 applied in two weeks, Petruzzello said.

After accepting applications since April 2016, the department closed applications Jan. 8, 2018.

Unstable situations

Stover quit her job at 61 because of stress. She lived on her savings for 14 months, then began applying for food stamps and other help.

Stover applied for rent assistance in March 2014. It wasn’t until Nov. 1, 2016—two years and seven months later—that she started on the program, she said.

Stover got by while waiting for rent assistance, but others have a tougher time, Petruzzello said.

People often live with friends or family while on the waiting list. Some leave the area, she said.

“I do think it would surprise people,” Petruzzello said. “In a community like Janesville, the homeless population is not as visible as it is in those larger communities in part because people don’t want to be seen that way.”

In early 2017, a year after the department again began accepting applications, the department sent letters to more than 1,000 applicants on the waiting list. More than 60 percent of the letters were returned as undeliverable or no response, Petruzzello said.

“That, to me, was a huge indication of just how unstable people’s living situations are,” she said.

Stover knows of qualifying people who either are unaware of or are too proud to apply for rent assistance. She recently helped a friend apply before applications closed Jan. 8, she said.

Stover said she is frugal, and being on the program allows her to put money into savings for emergencies, such as a recent $1,400 vehicle repair. Such surprise expenses would “devastate” most seniors she knows, but rent assistance gives her “peace of mind,” Stover said.

“It makes me feel more secure in my future,” she said.

Funding cut expected

Janesville’s rent assistance program is entirely federally funded. The $2.5 million to $3 million the city receives annually for the program has remained relatively constant, though a 4 percent funding reduction in 2018 is likely, Petruzzello said.

“That makes it difficult for communities to plan and be as responsive as they can to the existing need,” Petruzzello said.

It also makes participants and those on the waiting list anxious they won’t get the help they need, she said.

At a Homeless Intervention Task Force meeting Friday, dozens of officials and participants of various local charitable organizations prioritized what services are most beneficial to the community’s homeless. During discussions, attendees often mentioned the importance of housing, including the rent assistance program.

After votes were tallied, mental health services was indicated as most important and emergency shelters as second-most important. Rent assistance came in third out of the 15 categories. It often places high at the task force’s annual prioritization meeting, said Chairwoman Jessica Locher.

“I think that this program is the most significant program that we have to help individuals avoid homelessness. I think it’s largely a safety net for the very low income segment of our population,” Petruzzello said.

People fall off the program after they start earning enough money to no longer qualify, move out of the area, or, less frequently, violate program rules, Petruzzello said.

Under federal rules, at least 75 percent of the program’s participants must be in the extremely low income bracket, which is less than $13,300 a year for a single person. These participants require more financial help than those in the very low income bracket, which is $22,150 a year for a single person.

Having a majority of participants in the extremely low category means the program helps fewer families at a time than it could otherwise, Petruzzello said.

The average annual income for Janesville households in the rent assistance program is less than $12,000, Petruzzello said.

Tightening market

Janesville’s tightening rental market makes things worse.

The city has a rental vacancy rate of about 1 percent, which means apartments are hard to come by and landlords are hiking rents. Petruzzello said her sense after talking to and working with people receiving assistance for the first time is it’s becoming more difficult for lower-income residents to find decent, safe housing in Janesville, she said.

“We’re seeing a much lower vacancy rate, and that has translated into fewer choices and opportunities for low-income families to get that housing,” Petruzzello said.

Stover’s rent increased Nov. 1. The portion of increase she has to cover is moderate, but the city’s share is substantial, she said.

“The rents in this city have gone up much more than I thought they would,” Stover said. “It’s sad the rents are going up, but then everything goes up.”

Program participants must find housing at or below a federally set “fair market value” to pay only 30 percent of their income toward rent. Participants who live in housing above fair market rent must pay a higher portion, and more Janesville rental properties are climbing above that threshold, Petruzzello said.

The result is the rent assistance program has to pay more to help participants because more of them are renting above fair market value, and more families are seeking rent assistance because of increasing rental rates, Petruzzello said.

Stover chooses to live at Village Green, which is above fair market value, because she likes it so much. She’s lived in Village Green apartments for 26 years, she said.

Not every landlord is willing to work with the city’s rent assistance program, further limiting what’s available to program participants. Stover said such landlords have a “terrible impact” on the low-income community.

The city inspects properties before allowing a rent assistance participant to live there and then inspects the property every one to two years after. Some landlords like the inspections because they highlight issues the landlords might not have otherwise noticed, but others aren’t fans, Petruzzello said.

“With the market being as tight as it is, if they can rent to somebody who doesn’t have that requirement, they’re able to do that—get somebody in there more quickly, maybe,” she said.

Participating landlords like the stable payments the program provides. For instance, if a program participant loses his job and his income drops, the program makes up the difference so the tenant doesn’t fall behind on payments, Petruzzello said.

Some landlords simply like being able to help the less fortunate. The city works with about 200 landlords, Petruzzello said.

Potential solutions

Petruzzello said doing away with the requirement that 75 percent of the program’s participants be in the extremely low income bracket could help more people long term.

“… I think we would be able to help people that are maybe best positioned to become self-sufficient and get themselves off the list, but they need a little bit of help to do that,” Petruzzello said. “That’s a gap that I’d like to see us try to reach.”

Doing so could allow the city to help more families at once, and they’d likely roll off the program quicker, she said.

Stover said a negative stigma sometimes attaches to those who accept government help, including rent assistance. They’re often seen as “takers” and generally negative people.

Stover said most people she knows receiving financial aid have positive attitudes, herself included. She and Maggie volunteer at the library as a way of giving back to the community.

People need homes and food to survive, but happiness doesn’t come from material goods, she said.

“You get what you give,” Stover said.


Government
Rock County Board may oppose town of Beloit becoming village

JANESVILLE

The town of Beloit may face a second opponent in its quest to incorporate as a village.

The Rock County Board is set to vote Thursday on whether to oppose the incorporation.

The city of Beloit has already registered its disapproval.

County board Chairman Russ Podzilni said last week the town appears to be out for the money it could reap by becoming a village.

“I feel very strongly about that. They’re just in it for the money,” Podzilni said.

The town and county now split shared revenue they receive from Alliant Energy’s power-generating facilities in the town.

By state law, the town gets one-third of the revenue and the county two-thirds. But if the town becomes a village, the village would get two-thirds and the county one-third.

Rock County now receives $1.74 million annually and the town $1.07 million, according to an executive summary included with the board’s agenda for its Thursday meeting.

The revenue is based on power generated, and Alliant is building a second power plant, so the county estimates that after the expansion in 2021, a village would receive $2.95 million and the county $1.87 million, a loss to the county of $1.08 million each year.

The county can’t cover the loss by increasing taxes because of state-imposed revenue limits, Podzilni said.

“The logical thing for the town of Beloit to do would be to become part of the city of Beloit,” to save money by putting now-separate services under one administration, Podzilni said.

The Gazette was not able to reach Town Administrator Ian Haas for comment.

If the county board votes “yes,” the resolution would be delivered to the state incorporation review board, which would receive public testimony for and against incorporation, possibly later this year.

Town officials have said they intend to incorporate a portion of the town as the village of Riverside, leaving a “remnant town” that could join the village at some future date.

The town has filed for incorporation in Rock County Court.

The court must review the application and determine whether it meets minimum requirements under state law.

If it does, the court would refer the matter to the state review board.

If the review board OK’s the application, residents in the area of the proposed village would have the final say in a referendum.

Officials have said the referendum likely would take place in April 2019.


glance

local • 3A

Two dead, four hurt in crash

Two people died in a traffic accident early Sunday morning on Interstate 43, according to a Wisconsin State Patrol news release. The fatal crash occurred around 3 a.m. Sunday at mile marker 6 of Interstate 43 near Clinton. Besides the two fatalities, four other people were injured and transported to nearby hospitals, according to the release.

Board considers phone system

It will cost the Janesville School District $1.5 million to $2 million to replace its phone system. But how will the district pay for it? The Janesville School Board will get an update Tuesday on those possibilities from Greg Ardrey, chairman of the board’s finance, buildings and grounds committee. Choices include dipping into the district’s fund balance, finding a way to pay for the system through staggered payments or resorting to the dreaded r-word: referendum.

state • 2A

Small school is seeing double

The 140-student senior class of Lodi High School has nine sets of twins. There is one set of brothers, four sets of sisters and four sets of twins that are mixed. For this school year, the school of about 500 students has a total of 17 sets of twins.

Nation/world • 6B-7B

Kabul siege leaves 18 dead

Security forces said Sunday they had killed the last of six Taliban militants to end an overnight siege at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel that left at least 18 people dead, including 14 foreigners.