Gov. Scott Walker wants parents who receive food stamps to work at least 80 hours per month to continue to receive benefits, he announced on Monday.

Walker made his announcement in Milwaukee before traveling across the rest of the state to announce a package of welfare changes — a program he has dubbed “Wisconsin Works for Everyone.”

One component of the new program is to require parents with school-age children living at home to work to continue to receive benefits through the state’s food stamp program known as FoodShare — but the proposal is contrary to federal law that specifically exempts parents with children from such work requirements.

But unlike the state’s current work requirement for able-bodied childless adults receiving food stamps, parents who do not meet the requirement of either working 80 hours per month or participate in a job training program will not lose all of the FoodShare benefits after three months of not doing either as is current state law.

Instead, “any sanctions for noncompliance would be partial, only affecting the noncompliant adult’s portion of the allotment,” according to the governor’s office.

But it’s unclear how the sanctions would be implemented in a way that only the parent would be affected.

Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson said more details would be included in the governor’s budget proposal in response to questions about how the partial sanctions would be carried out.

David Lee, executive director of Feeding Wisconsin, an organization that advocates on behalf of food shelters and oversees a network of pantries in the state, said proposing to reduce benefits for adults in a family is tantamount to reducing benefits for the entire family, thus reducing the amount available for the children living in those families.

Lee said because more than 60 percent of FoodShare recipients are families with children, “the proposed sanction will reduce the overall amount of food available for everybody in the family, including children.”

Scott Manley, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, praised Walker’s proposals, saying they provide eliminate incentives to not work and instead receive state and federal assistance, like food stamps.

“One of the biggest problems we routinely hear from our members is that the welfare system in our state and country creates a disincentive to work,” said Manley in a statement. “Gov. Walker’s proposed reforms would actually incentivize work, while making sure our government is still providing a hand up to those in need.”

The new work requirement for parents receiving FoodShare benefits would begin on a pilot basis, but it’s unclear how many recipients would be included in the pilot program.

Walker told reporters in Milwaukee he will include the proposal in his 2017-19 state budget but that to actually implement the work requirement for parents, Wisconsin will need approval from the federal government. He said talks are “underway,” according to WISC-TV.

About 21,000 Wisconsin residents using food stamps have gained employment through the state program’s designed to connect recipients with jobs to meet the state’s work requirement, which began in April 2015.

But in that time, 64,000 FoodShare recipients also have lost benefits after receiving three months of food stamps and not looking for nor gaining employment, according to Department of Health Services data released this month.

The average wage of participants in the jobs program is about $12 per hour in about a 33-hour work week, making those participants still eligible for FoodShare benefits.

Walker also is seeking a waiver from the federal government to be able to test FoodShare recipients for drug use.

Lee said federal law already requires people to register for work unless they are exempt and has “fairly strict requirements for the many families participating in the program who are already working.”

“We would support fine-tuning existing law rather than implementing over broad requirements that may lead to sanctions that reduce food benefits for Wisconsin families trying to turn their life around and their children,” said Lee.

Walker said in a Tweet on Monday that the package of changes to the state’s welfare programs would expand upon initiatives enacted by former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Thompson, who is traveling with Walker to make the program announcements, in 1997 started the state’s welfare-to-work program called Wisconsin Works, also known as W-2.

Thompson’s program dramatically changed the state’s welfare approach, requiring people on welfare to be working or to look for work to continue to get state assistance, which became a model for other states seeking to change their welfare programs.

“We believe our public assistance programs should ask able-bodied adults to take steps toward self-sufficiency through work, while also providing comprehensive tools to help them get and keep a job,” said Walker in a press release.

Walker also proposes to:

–Seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pilot a work requirement for able-bodied adults using its housing voucher program.

–Eliminating “the child care cliff,” by phasing out child care assistance from the state for parents instead of eliminating it altogether once a family earns more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which Walker said discourages parents from taking pay raises.

–Strengthening the Medicaid Purchase Plan work requirement by changing the program’s premium structure to remove the existing “premium cliff” of 150 percent of the federal poverty level and require participants to show proof of employment, substantial in-kind work or participation in “pre-employment programming” in order to be elgible for support.

–Expand programs to assist criminal offender to re-enter the workforce, including expanding vocational training through technical colleges and dedicating a position within Department of Workforce Development to expand apprenticeships for inmates.

–The DWD will make grants available to encourage partnerships between employers and other organizations and the public sector to “increase the retention and growth of employees with barriers, while reducing turnover costs.”

–Create an “earned-income credit” to give to youth aging out of foster care and youth with disabilities to reward employment.

–Give a new tax credit to low-income parents who do not have custody of their children but are fulfilling their child support obligations on time and in full throughout the year through their employment.


(c)2017 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

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