Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign new legislation that will shake up state welfare benefits and food programs. Instead of allowing thousands of state residents to freely access food assistance programs, the state will now require that many of those using the benefits work as well.
This reform is meant to crack down on the system-wide abuse and may come as a surprise to many who have long used the programs. Gov. Walker also sees this added feature as a way to boost the state economy. It seems that there is a shortage of workers in the state and as they just can no longer afford to have anyone not working.
Wisconsin is experiencing a shortage of workers. For the first time, state unemployment has reached 3%. This means that as of December 97% of those seeking full-time work can find it.
In 2017, the workforce in the state grew by 1.2%. By the end of the same year, there were 100,000 jobs in the state that sat empty.
The state needs workers, and there is no reason that an able-bodied adult cannot be working in the state. Walker is hoping to motivate those living on food benefits to return to work by adding in a requirement for parents to work.
The republican has taken a very realistic and no-nonsense approach to the much-needed reforms.
While many states already require single adults who use food supports to work, parents are often allowed not to work. The idea is that some parents cannot work because they do not have access to childcare or have other responsibilities within the home.
Even for single adults without children, the requirement to work can be waived for those living with some form of a disability.
The current food program in the state does require those getting food assistance to attend classes to prepare them to enter the workforce. Parents often can find a way to have this requirement waived as well.
The new welfare requirements mandate that parents of children ages 6 and up have to work at least 30 hours a week. This allows parents with small children that are not old enough to attend school the time to stay home.
Classes offered to prepare parents to return to work also count towards the 30 hours a week requirement.
As Gov. Walker shared, the state “…can’t afford to have anybody on the sidelines. This is as much as anything a workforce issue.”
This is not the first time that the state has toyed with the idea of requiring welfare program recipients to work.
Before the efforts of Democratic Gov. Jim Boyle to ease up on the guidelines in 2008, all adults without children were required to work at least 20 hours a week.
Gov. Walker put those same guidelines back in place in 2015. Again, adults without children were required to work. The same mandates that pushed welfare users to work also required that they attended and complete training programs put on by the state.
As a result of the change in 2015, 25,000 welfare recipients returned to the workforce. Even with those numbers, many liberals argued that this type of mandate does not work.
Having a work requirement goes a long way to help food program users to see it as a short-term solution and quickly transition beyond the need for the services.
It is often seen as a positive way to encourage those using social services to get back to being self-reliant. After the new requirements went into effect in 2015, 86,000 people came off the food benefit program.
Of the 86,000 people who no longer got benefits, some were able to return to work full-time and no longer qualified for social services. There are others that merely declined to meet the new requirements and went without the program benefits.
As the requirements expand to include those with children in the group that need to return to work, the state is estimating it will need to screen 61,300 customers. They will be looking for those who can opt out of the work requirement.
Adults with children who are also pregnant fall into the group that will not be required to work. As mentioned above, adults with disabilities are also not required to work if they are not able.
State leaders are estimating that 27,000 of the parents on food assistance will quickly meet the new requirement.
The change in work requirements for the state was fully supported by the republican majority in the state legislature. It did not receive any support from the 49 Democrats in the state.
Republicans in the state are hopeful that this new law will continue to return workers to the job force. It worked in the past with adults without children.