Rewarding Work - Helping Wisconsinites Move Towards Self-Sufficiency
A cornerstone provision of the plan is the expansion of the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program, both through requiring new portions of the population to enroll and by increasing voluntary referrals. The reforms are a massive new expansion to the FSET program and a key portion of Walker's hopes for his legacy as a welfare reformer.
"I want to look back and say I've done everything in my power to make sure those who are able to work -- are able to," Walker said earlier this month in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
Currently, only able-bodied adults without dependents who receive FoodShare benefits are required to participate if they do not work or receive job training 80 hours per month. Walker's proposal would also require able-bodied adults with children above the age of six and who don't work or attend job training 80 hours per month to participate in FSET. That's a considerable change, and one which should attract some attention once the budget process gets moving.
Another provision would require parents who receive FoodShare benefits to comply with child support orders. If an individual refuses to assist in establishing paternity, or refuses to provide child support when ordered by a court to do so, they would no longer be allowed to receive FoodShare. That's part of a change that the Walker team hopes will encourage both custodial and noncustodial parents to do the right thing.
In a similar vein, Walker's plan expands Learnfare requirements that sanction parents whose children don't attend school. Under current law, an individual's public benefits may be sanctioned if they have children between ages six and 17 who are not enrolled in school. If passed, the proposal included in the budget would expand those sanctions to the parents of children who are habitually truant and who do not cooperate with case management services to improve student attendance.
Walker's proposal includes:
- $30 million across the biennium to refer all eligible able-bodied adult FoodShare recipients to FSET. These referrals would include people who are not currently required to meet the 80 hour per month work requirement, such as people with children up to age 18 and those who care for incapacitated persons.
- $8.5 million total and 1.5 full time positions across the biennium to create a pilot program mandating that certain able-bodied adults with dependents participate in FSET if they are not meeting work requirements. Able-bodied adults with children over the age of six would be required to participate in FSET. Included in that funding would be money to drug screen, test, and treat those participants. The state anticipates an increased enrollment of 25,000 people per year as a result of these changes.
- $945,600 and 0.90 full time positions to make FoodShare eligibility contingent on cooperating with child support orders. If any individual refuses to fully cooperate with good faith efforts to establish paternity or provide child support to a child under the age of 18, that person would be made ineligible to receive FoodShare.
- $19.7 million and 24 positions to institute a requirement that individuals who are unemployed or underemployed participate in employment and training services. This requirement would also be extended to childless adult Medicaid participants, pending the approval of a federal waiver, as well as to able-bodied adults who receive housing vouchers.
- $1.1 million to create a new five-county child support program to help noncustodial parents increase their earnings and child support payments.
- $4.1 million to the Medical Assistance Purchase Program (MAPP) to require that program participants prove gainful employment and earned income to DHS by providing tax filing documentation. Benefits would also be extended to create a "ramp" rather than a "cliff" so that participants slowly receive fewer benefits as income rises, rather than immediately becoming ineligible when their income reaches a certain point. Welfare "cliffs" such as this exist in a variety of government programs and can often create the unintended consequence of keeping individuals on public benefits programs for longer than they prefer. By creating a ramp, the state is hoping that program enrollment will slowly decline as individuals are able to "wean" off of public benefits and support themselves solely with earnings from their own jobs.
In the above provisions, half of the funding allocated is from General Purpose Revenue (GPR), and the other half is federal money.
Strengthening Families - Supporting Parents and Positive Norms
The biggest line-item in this section is a provision for $7.8 million in federal TANF funding to expand the Family Foundations Home Visiting program to serve more families. The program has existed since 2011 and works to support families with children up to age five and helps them develop the skills to raise healthy children, with a particular focus on mental health and increased school readiness.
$1.5 million in GPR would create a new honeymoon period in the state EITC to eliminate the credit's marriage penalty for the first three years a couple is married. Under the current EITC structure, a financial disincentive to marriage exists. This proposal is expected to affect 8,000 filers in tax year 2018.
Both custodial and noncustodial parents who receive FoodShare benefits would be required to cooperate with child support orders as well as any efforts to establish paternity in order to continue receiving benefits.
The Walker team also allocates over $1 million in TANF funding to promote what they call the "Success Sequence:" first graduating from high school, then getting a job, then waiting until after marriage and age 21 to have children. The Success Sequence would be incorporated into the Academic and Career Planning program, and would be the focus of a new public messaging campaign, alongside promoting the importance of fathers in the lives of their children.
Speaking of children, the next section looks at education...
Investing in Success - Prioritizing Education
The largest line-item here is for $500,000 in federal TANF money to create a new two-year performance-based grant program for schools that successfully implement creative strategies to reduce early-grade absenteeism. Another provision would allow W-2 benefits to be sanctioned for the families of children who are habitually truant and who do not cooperate with case management services aimed at improving attendance. Under current law, benefits may be sanctioned if a child is not enrolled in school, but not if that child is habitually truant.
Two new pilot programs that use parent alerts via text messaging are created under this section. One would spend nearly $100,000 in federal funding to text the parents of pre-K students in Head Start programs, and the other would spend $156,700 and add .25 full time positions to try to increase the number of high school seniors who successfully enroll in postsecondary programs. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) would be charged with creating a competitive grant process and providing access to the text messaging platform at no cost to the school districts.
The final section works to make public benefits programs more efficient.
Stewardship - Enhancing Program Efficiency and Integrity
Under the proposed plan, access to certain benefits programs would be limited to individuals with low incomes to ensure that they are used for those most truly in need. First, a $15,000 limit on the amount of business and investment losses a low- and moderate-income family can claim for tax credits. Small family farms are exempted from this provision.
$3.7 million total and 10.2 full time positions would be provided to prohibit individuals who are not elderly, blind, or disabled from receiving FoodShare benefits or child care subsidies if the individual lives in a household that has over $25,000 in liquid assets. The State of Wisconsin would have to ask for a waiver from the federal Department of Agriculture to implement this provision.
Finally, the Departments of Children and Families, Health Services, Workforce Development, and Public Instruction would be charged with conducting a new joint study on the overlap of chronic absenteeism and the use of public benefits. The goal of this provision is to examine how the state may most efficiently target services at those who need them most.