Welfare Reform MI Research

April 30, 2018 | By Brett Healy

Wisconsin Leads the Way on Welfare Reform

The following column originally ran in The Ripon Forum and the La Crosse Tribune.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is proving — once again — to be the nation’s leading limited-government governor having recently signed into law the most ambitious welfare reform package introduced anywhere in the country.

Many politicians pay lip service to changing welfare and the culture of dependency. Gov. Walker is actually getting it done and changing peoples’ lives forever.

Wisconsin Works For Everyone, Walker’s nine-bill welfare reform package, is designed to move people from “government dependence to true independence through the dignity of work.”

Walker’s latest reforms are part of his continuing effort to change the culture of welfare back to what it was originally intended — temporary help. The governor has said that welfare should be “more like a trampoline and less like a hammock” with the goal being gainful employment and a permanent private-sector job. At the same time, Gov. Walker has insisted that new taxpayer protections be instituted — like strict time and asset limits — to safeguard these programs for those who truly need them.

Under the new reforms, the work requirement for recipients of FoodShare, the state’s food stamp program, will be expanded from 20 hours per week to 30, the maximum allowed by the federal government. The requirement will also be expanded to include able-bodied adults with school-aged children — a common-sense and groundbreaking expectation of welfare recipients whose children are in school during the day. When your child is in school, you will be expected to spend that time working or taking the training needed for a different career.

The Wisconsin Works For Everyone reforms also place an asset limit on those receiving assistance from a variety of programs, including FoodShare. Participants with a home worth more than 200 percent of the median statewide home value—$321,000—will no longer qualify.

That means people like Latasha Jackson, a welfare recipient in Wisconsin who was found to own a million-dollar mansion with an indoor swimming pool and basketball court, will no longer be able to scam government assistance programs and cheat taxpayers.

In addition, Walker has implemented new performance-based requirements for vendors in the Wisconsin Works and FoodShare Employment Training programs. Contracts will be judged on the success vendors have in actually reducing welfare rolls and saving taxpayer money, not just shuffling bureaucratic paperwork around.

Some of Walker’s reforms will require federal waivers. For example, Wisconsin recently sought federal permission to implement work requirements in its Medicaid program. As with the FoodShare work requirement, BadgerCare recipients would have to either work part-time or enroll in job skills training.

People who fail to meet the proposed work requirements will have their Medicaid benefits limited to four years. That eliminates an open-ended entitlement bankrolled by taxpayers for people who refuse to work, the very definition of a common-sense, pro-taxpayer reform.

Fortunately, Wisconsin Republicans have found a willing partner in the Trump administration.

Both the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture recently sought ideas through the administrative rules process on how the federal government can reduce welfare rolls and move more people to a private-sector job.

We could save the country a lot of time and debate if the Trump administration would just borrow all of Gov. Walker’s Wisconsin-based reforms and implement them nationally.

President Trump’s willingness to reform welfare and improve the lives of our fellow citizens who need a little help is in stark contrast to the approach of President Obama. Obama’s destructive policies attempted to roll back every single Clinton-era welfare reform, resulting in more than 44 million Americans being dependent on food stamps. What a disgraceful legacy. Thankfully, President Trump and Gov. Walker are working hard to erase it and change welfare forever.

If Gov. Walker’s earliest welfare reform initiative is any indication of future success, then the Wisconsin Works For Everyone package will have a dramatic impact. According to the most recent data from the state Department of Health Services, a new FoodShare work and training requirement implemented in 2016 has helped more than 25,000 Wisconsinites gain private employment, and the average wage as well as the average number of hours worked for these participants has steadily increased over time.

Many politicians pay lip service to changing welfare and the culture of dependency. Gov. Walker is actually getting it done and changing peoples’ lives forever.

Now that’s a legacy we can all be proud of.

April 23, 2018 | By Chris Rochester

Ryan Turns Attention to Welfare Reform After Tax Overhaul Success

Tax reform laid the groundwork for long-term, sustained economic growth. Now it’s time to make sure America has the workforce to fill the new jobs that will be created as a result, House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Friday.

Speaking with business leaders at a Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce luncheon in Madison, Ryan touted the Tax Cuts And Jobs Act, the sweeping tax overhaul signed into law just before Christmas last year. “We really believe it’s going to reset this economy and put a foundation, a bedrock under this economy that will last for an entire generation,” Ryan said.

With the stage set for increased, long-term economic growth, Ryan said now is the time to focus on the workforce. “We have a skills gap in America. In Wisconsin, we have an opportunity gap,” Ryan said. “That’s what we want to focus on now.”

There are 6.5 million job openings in America, but even more people who are capable of working but not in the workforce. “We want to pull people off the sidelines, off of welfare, into the workforce,” Ryan said. He outlined his goal of a 20 hour/week requirement for able-bodied, working age people to either work or go to school – mirroring recent welfare reforms in Wisconsin that have helped more than 25,000 people get off food stamps and into private sector jobs.

April 12, 2018 | By M.D. Kittle

Trump's Welfare Reform Initiative Bodes Well For Wisconsin Plan

Amid the din of D.C. intrigue, President Donald Trump this week issued an executive order aimed at fighting poverty while protecting taxpayers.

“We can lift our citizens from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to prosperity,” said President Donald Trump.

And the initiative appears to bode well for Wisconsin’s latest welfare reform package.

The president’s Order on Economic Mobility “takes the first steps toward welfare reform in America” and signals to states like Wisconsin that the White House is serious about fixing the nation’s troubled public assistance system.

The president’s rhetoric echoes that of Gov. Scott Walker, a two-term Republican governor who has, in many ways, led nationally on welfare reform.

On Tuesday, as Trump was issuing the executive order, Walker signed into law nine measures expanding the state’s welfare-to-work initiatives. The reform package, among other changes, increases work requirements and creates a health savings account-style Medicaid program that could be a huge savings for taxpayers.

Walker’s administration is seeking a federal waiver to require able-bodied adults, including parents of school-aged children, to spend 30 hours per week working or training for work in order to receive FoodShare and BadgerCare (Wisconsin’s Medicaid program) benefits. Currently, able-bodied adults must spend at least 20 hours per week at a job or training for one in order to receive the taxpayer-funded benefits.

Last month, state Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) met at the White House with Trump’s special adviser on Medicaid, and deputy secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The administrators, Kapenga said, were very receptive to Wisconsin’s proposals.

Trump’s executive order, it would seem, only enhances the chances Wisconsin’s federal waiver requests will be approved.

“(Tuesday’s) executive order demonstrates that the Trump administration is looking to the states to be leaders on welfare reform, and Wisconsin is leading the way,” Kapenga, who was Senate co-author of the bills, told MacIver News Service.

Among its other directives, the president’s order provides “more flexibility to the States, while ensuring accountability for achieving outcomes.”

“The principles and policies laid out in the President’s executive order are very much aligned with the Wisconsin Works for Everyone package, which gives us hope the federal government will ultimately give us the flexibility needed to implement our reforms,” Kapenga said in a statement to MacIver.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) on Tuesday tweeted that in one of the best economic environments in years businesses are struggling to find qualified workers.

“@POTUS’s executive order on workforce development and economic mobility reaffirms that it’s time we face our poverty challenge head on,” Ryan tweeted.

The initiative provides nine “Principles of Economic Mobility,” which are to guide federal agencies that administer public assistance programs, according to the executive order. They must:

  • Improve employment outcomes and economic indepencence
  • Promote marriage and family as a way of escaping poverty
  • Address the challenges of hard-to-employ populations
  • Provide more flexibility to states, while ensuring accountability for achieving outcomes
  • Streamline services to more effectively use taxpayer resources
  • Reserve benefits for those truly in need
  • Consolidate duplicative programs
  • Facilitate greater sharing of information between states and localities
  • Empower the private sector to find solutions to poverty

While the reform order moves to empower state, local, and tribal governments to serve needy individuals and families, it emphasizes strengthening work requirements and assuring public assistance goes to those truly in need.

Last year, the federal government – via taxpayers – spent more than $700 billion on welfare programs.

Public assistance and big government advocates blasted the executive order.

“Work requirements are inconsistent with the realities of poverty in America and are unlikely to provide any resolution,” Valerie Wilson, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, told the Washington Post.

But proponents of welfare reform in Wisconsin say expanded work and training requirements for public assistance are bringing success. According to the most recent figures from the state Department of Health Services, requiring recipients work or enroll in job training programs 20 hours per week has helped more than 25,000 participants gain employment – with an average wage of $12.68 per hour.

“Wisconsin is leading the nation on welfare reform,” Walker said in a statement Tuesday, after signing the welfare reform legislation into law. “We want to help those in need move from government dependence to true independence through the dignity of work.”

March 20, 2018 | By M. D. Kittle

Senator: Trump Administration Encourages Wisconsin To Push For Welfare Reform Waivers

MADISON, Wis. – The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature has passed some of the most ambitious welfare reform legislation in the nation, and the most recent package of nine bills is receiving a warm welcome from the Trump administration, according to the lawmaker who helped lead the package to passage.

State Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) recently met at the White House with President Donald Trump’s special adviser on Medicaid, and deputy secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Reform advocates point to a simple fact: The vast majority of full-time employees do not live in poverty. In short, work equals success.

“We had a really good discussion about what we need to do,” Kapenga told MacIver News Service last week on the Vicki McKenna Show, on NewsTalk 1130 WISN.

The Trump administration has been more than receptive to states like Wisconsin seeking waivers to implement broader work requirements for welfare benefits.

In January, Kentucky became the first state to win approval from the Trump administration on waivers for work-based welfare reforms. The move came a day after the Republican president rolled out new guidance encouraging states to apply for waivers, the first move of its kind in the 50-year history of the Medicaid program.

“The people we met with were saying, ‘Listen, what you guys are doing is exactly what we want to see. We want you to keep pushing because we know the reforms need to be made,’” Kapenga said. “It was very encouraging to see the Trump administration fully behind reforming the system as it is because they see it doesn’t work.”

Wisconsin’s welfare reform package, passed last month on party lines and awaiting Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s signature, includes increasing work requirements and creating a health savings account-style Medicaid program that could be a huge savings for taxpayers.

The state is seeking a federal waiver to require able-bodied adults, including parents of school-aged children, to spend 30 hours per week working or training for work in order to receive FoodShare and BadgerCare (Wisconsin’s Medicaid program) benefits. Currently, able-bodied adults must spend at least 20 hours per week at a job or training for one in order to receive the taxpayer-funded benefits.

“We do have one of the most aggressive fights against poverty in the nation,” Kapenga said.

Indiana in 2015 rolled out Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, a high-deductible health plan administered by a Managed Care Entity, over a three-year demonstration period. Indiana’s plan provides health insurance coverage to most non-disabled Indiana adults ages 19 to 64 whose family income is at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level and who are ineligible for other Medicaid or Medicare programs.

Wisconsin is seeking federal permission for a similar plan, but wants to “take it more full scale,” Kapenga said.

The state’s recently passed welfare reform package would change the Earned Income Tax Credit distribution system to low-income tax return filers. Instead of a lump sum payment, EITC recipients would receive monthly checks. The idea, Kapenga said, is to teach real-world budgeting skills.

“What oftentimes happens is, they’re not used to being on a budget and they go out and basically blow it, and several months later they’re back in the same rut, in the same hole,” the senator said. “We said, ‘Why don’t we change this program and actually do it on a monthly check so they can actually start getting into the habit [of budget discipline]?'”

The welfare reform package also requires drug screening and treatment for those seeking public housing assistance. And anyone with a home worth approximately $321,000 – twice the median value – would no longer be eligible for welfare benefits.

Not a single Democrat supported the reform package, insisting that the bills will only punish the poor.

But reform advocates point to a simple fact: The vast majority of full-time employees do not live in poverty. In short, work equals success.

“We are removing barriers to work, investing in job and skills training for the unemployed and underemployed, and expanding programs that incentivize work,” Walker said earlier this year in announcing a special session on welfare reform. “We are making it easier for people to get a job and ensuring that everyone who wants a job can find one.”

A Walker spokeswoman did not return an email seeking comment, including on when the governor plans to sign the bills into law.

Wisconsin is one of at least a dozen states seeking federal waivers requiring able-bodied adults to work in order to receive Medicaid. Kentucky was the first to receive Trump administration approval. It wasn’t the last. Indiana and Arkansas followed suit.

Kapenga said Wisconsin’s chances look good.

“We just have to go through a process in the state to revise the waiver that was already submitted,” he said. The update should be completed in the next month or so, he added.

“[The Trump administration] told us, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease in Washington, so start squeaking,’” Kapenga said.

Trump administration officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

March 12, 2018 | MacIver News Service

It’s Working Wisconsin – Moving From Welfare To Independence

In 2015, Governor Scott Walker started a pilot program to help transition people from government dependence to independence. Since then, over 25,000 people have found jobs thanks to Wisconsin’s FoodShare Employment Training (FSET) program. The left argues it’s cruel and counter-productive to make people on benefits participate in job training. These successful graduates might beg to differ. Watch the original DHS videos here.

February 2, 2018 | MacIver News Service

Friday Capitol Update: Welfare Reform, Unemployment Insurance Fraud and Collective Bargaining

Once again, your friendly MacIver staff is here to keep you up-to-date on all the happenings at the Wisconsin Capitol. With dozens of bills being pushed through the Legislature this week, we selected a few especially important bills to keep you caught up on. From new rules on drug testing to unemployment insurance fraud to the Foodshare program and more—you’ll find it all in this week’s Friday Capitol Update!

Unemployment Insurance Fraud Penalties May Increase

This past Tuesday, the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform held a public hearing for Assembly Bill 710, pertaining to unemployment insurance (UI) fraud.

“Matching the penalties for UI benefit theft to those for other theft is fair…and helps ensure that the program functions for its intended purpose–a temporary safety net for those who are out of work through no fault of their own,” bill author Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Kenosha) said.

Current penalties and penalties under the bill are as follows:

The bill’s Senate counterpart (SB 542), authored by Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), received its latest fiscal estimate on Wednesday.

According to a report from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development from December 2014, from Fiscal Year ’11-’12 to ’13-’14 alone, the the number of cases of intentional fraud was nearly 65,000, amounting to $86.3 million of stolen taxpayer money (see table below).

DHS 38 Drug Testing Rule

Also heard on Tuesday by the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform was rule DHS 38. This rule proposed by the Department of Health Services (DHS) would require that able-bodied adults enrolling in the FoodShare Employment and Training Program (FSET) receive drug screenings.

Casey Himebauch from the Wisconsin DHS testified in favor of DHS 38, stating that the rule was not being created to kick people off of FSET, but to give them the necessary drug treatment that those who fail the test need to return to the workforce.

“[DHS 38] would not require everyone in FSET to take a drug test, only those whose screen indicates they may be at risk for substance use disorder… The department does not anticipate a large cost associated with drug treatment from this rule,” Himebauch said.

Massive Welfare Reform Hearing

The other big hearing this week at the Capitol was on welfare reform. On Wednesday, committees in the Senate and Assembly held a joint public hearing for 10 separate welfare reform bills (Senate Bills 1-10). The bills were authored by Senator Chris Kapenga and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

Gov. Scott Walker called for this special session on January 18 to pass the package of bills, which he’s dubbed “Wisconsin Works for Everyone.”

Five of the bills (SB 1, 2, 3, 6, 10) relate to the Foodshare program, covering required hours of participation for the training program, a requirement for able-bodied adults in Foodshare to undergo training, additional restrictions on eligibility, payments based on performance for training contractors and photo ID requirements for all recipients.

The other bills make changes in the Medical Assistance, Wisconsin Works and public housing programs in the state.

“These bills promote accountability, encourage personal responsibility, prevent fraud and abuse, and ultimately, get people back to work,” said Vos in a press release after the hearing. “Welfare was never intended to be a permanent way of life.”

Additional hearings or an executive session on the bills is likely to be scheduled in the coming weeks. Follow the MacIver Institute for updates.

Collective Bargaining Preemption Passed Senate Committee

This Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform recommended passage of Senate Bill 634 with 3 ayes and 2 noes. The bill, authored by Kapenga, aims to prevent state and local government from requiring constituents to accept any collective bargaining requirements.

On January 10, a public hearing was held on this bill. Opponents of the bill claimed that the bill – which aims to protect the labor rights of Wisconsin citizens – would widen the gender wage gap in affected municipalities. Proponents of the bill argued that municipalities were forcing people into collective bargaining agreements, ignoring the state’s right-to-work law and public sector labor laws. Forced collective bargaining infringes on the rights of individual workers, proponents say.

January 25, 2018 | By Chris Rochester

State Of The State: Healy Discusses Gov. Walker’s Welfare Reform Proposal On WPR

MacIver President Brett Healy joins Kate Archer Kent on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Morning Show to talk about Governor Walker’s ten-bill welfare reform proposal. The new initiative was part of Walker’s 2018 State of the State address on Wednesday.

Read our report on Walker’s welfare reform proposal here.

Visit WPR here.

January 23, 2018 | By Chris Rochester

MacIver News Minute: Walker Rolls Out New Welfare Reform Initiative

Gov. Walker last week introduced a new package of welfare reform bills – ten in all. Walker proposes that FoodShare cards include photo ID, expands work requirements, puts asset limits on certain programs, and more. With unemployment at a rock-bottom 3%, there are certainly jobs available for able-bodied adults currently on government assistance.

Read our summary here.

Hear the MacIver News Minute on News/Talk 1130 WISN every Tuesday and Thursday at 8, 11, and 2. Listen to WISN live on iHeart here.

January 18, 2018 | By Chris Rochester

Walker Calls Special Session For Ten Welfare Reform Bills

A far-reaching package of welfare reform bills will be the focus of a special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday.

“With more people working in Wisconsin than ever before, we can’t afford to have anyone on the sidelines: we need everyone in the game,” said Gov. Scott Walker.

The bills, ten in all, build on Walker’s “Wisconsin Works For Everyone” welfare reform initiative announced nearly one year ago. Much of that agenda made it into law in the 2017-19 state budget.

Under the new welfare reform package, FoodShare Quest cards will be required to have a photo of the recipient. That measure will require the approval of the federal government. Previous efforts to require photos on food stamp cards, intended to root out fraud, were denied by the Obama administration but are much more likely to gain approval from President Trump.

The new initiative also expands the work requirement for FoodShare recipients. Currently the state requires recipients to undergo employment training or work 20 hours per week. That would be expanded to 30 hours per week for able-bodied adults, the maximum work requirement under federal law. The work requirement would also be extended to all able-bodied adults on food stamps with or without dependent children over the age of six.

In addition, no one who owns a home worth more than $321,200 – twice the median home value in Wisconsin – would be eligible for certain welfare programs including Wisconsin Works, Wisconsin Shares, and FoodShare.

The package also proposes reforms to the state’s behemoth Medical Assistance (MA) program, composed mostly of Medicaid. Able-bodied recipients will be required to be in compliance with and paid up on child support. The new proposals also require the state Department of Health Services (DHS) to ask for a federal waiver to create health savings accounts for individuals on MA.

Those health savings accounts, if approved, could help facilitate a separate proposal working its way through the Legislature that would require DHS to launch a direct primary care pilot program that some predict could save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. That proposal already has the support of the Trump administration.

The new welfare reform package also requires that state housing program rules be amended to consider the self-sufficiency of residents. An “employability plan” would be required for residents determined by housing authorities to be able-bodied and either unemployed or underemployed. Residents would also be subject to drug screen requirements.

Other reforms include a pilot program spreading earned income tax credit payments throughout the year, which would be expanded statewide in 2021 if approved by the IRS, and new requirements of vendors such as pay for performance measures.

The announcement of the special session comes the same day as news that Wisconsin’s unemployment rate stands at 3 percent, tying the state’s all-time low. That means a worker shortage, unfilled jobs, and no excuses for able-bodied adults to be on the sidelines, welfare reformers argue.

“With more people working in Wisconsin than ever before, we can’t afford to have anyone on the sidelines: we need everyone in the game,” said Walker in an announcement rolling out the new welfare reform initiatives.

The Walker administration is confident they have the support of the Legislature. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) and Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), the authors of the welfare reform bills, accompanied Walker on a tour of the state Thursday promoting the welfare reform agenda.

“Public assistance was never intended to be permanent…By taking welfare reform to the next level, we can move more people into the workforce and not allow anyone to take advantage of the system,” Vos said in a statement.

“We have an opportunity to help people fundamentally transform their lives with these bold reforms,” said Kapenga.

October 2, 2017 | MacIver News Service

New Data: More Than 20,700 Wisconsinites Have Gained Employment Through Walker’s Welfare Reforms

Average Wages and Weekly Hours Continue to Grow in Wisconsin’s FSET Program

Nearly 21,000 Wisconsinites have gained employment after participating in the FoodShare Employment and Training Program (FSET), according to new data from Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services (DHS). The data suggests that the perks of the program – including career training, stable employment, and higher wages – have attracted newcomers to join on their own.

The update comes just over two years after Gov. Scott Walker’s administration implemented new welfare reform initiatives. Able-bodied individuals without dependents who are aged 18-49 and who wish to receive FoodShare benefits must now participate in one of Wisconsin’s job training programs. Individuals must either work or participate in a program such as FSET for a combined 80 hours per month. Failing to meet the requirements for three months results in participants losing FSET benefits for three years.

In June 2017, the average FSET participant worked 35.1 hours per week and earned $13.10 per hour – nearly double the state’s minimum wage, according to the data release. Since 2015, the average hourly statewide wage of an FSET participant has increased by more than $4 per hour.

In a statement, DHS Secretary Linda Seemeyer said that “the FSET program gives people the helping hand they need to start building their future, independent of government assistance.”

The average hourly wages of participants from April-June 2017 was up to $12.96 per hour while the average hours worked in a week rose to 35 hours. Compared to the same three-month span last year, workers in eight of 11 FSET regions saw wage increases. Compared to April-June 2015, when the program first began, wages have risen in every single region.

Region 4, encompassing Fond du Lac, Winnebago, Green Lake, Waushara, Waupaca, and Calumet counties, experienced the largest increase in average hourly wages. Wages in the region are up to $14.98. In April-June of the previous year, average hourly wages were at $11.57.

Since the implementation of the reforms in April 2015, 59,961 FoodShare recipients have enrolled statewide. The number of adults who must participate in FSET in order to receive benefits has continually decreased, while voluntary participation has increased.

Shortly before releasing data for April through June of this year, DHS also released an extensive report on the FSET program’s second year.

Under the recently-passed 2017-19 state budget, the work requirements will be expanded to new populations. Able-bodied individuals with children aged six or older will also be required to participate in FSET or other job training programs in order to continue receiving benefits.

May 31, 2017 | By M. D. Kittle

Tommy Thompson Reformed Welfare Through The Power Of Work

Kelli Thompson learned the art of politics and the necessity of hard work from one of the great American political masters – her father.

Thompson, daughter of the legendary Tommy G. Thompson, Wisconsin’s longest serving governor who redefined political and public policy expectations, said her father has always loved people, the state of Wisconsin, and the thrill of a good fight.

Those qualities are what made Tommy, well, Tommy – the conservative who once won the liberal bastions of Dane County and the city of Milwaukee in his gubernatorial reelection bids.

“It was never a job to him,” Kelli Thompson told MacIver News Service in an interview last week. “I think it was how he was brought up. He never was told anything but you have to work really, really hard. If you want it and you love it, you still have to work really hard. Nothing is going to be handed to you, nothing is going to be given to you easily.”

That is how the former governor approached governing sans Republican majorities in the Legislature. It’s how he approached bringing diametrically opposed groups to the table to tackle education funding reform and in pioneering school vouchers and parental choice. And the idea that nothing is handed to you definitely is how Thompson approached ground-breaking welfare reform. More than 20 years ago Thompson signed into law a sweeping package of initiatives that set the pace for the federal welfare reform that followed.

Last week, policymakers present and past turned out to a Capitol symposium addressing the Republican’s governing legacy. It was part of Tommy@30, a series of events this year marking the 30th anniversary of Thompson’s first inauguration as governor. More so, the celebration is designed to take a closer look at what Tommy@30 chairman James Klauser describes as the “secret sauce” that made Thompson “one of the most innovative governors in the nation’s recent history.”

Klauser, Thompson’s Department of Administration secretary and one of his closest advisors, was among several Thompson administration alumni at the symposium.

“You couldn’t really complain about how hard you were working because he was working harder than you,” said symposium panelist Bob Trunzo, commerce secretary under Thompson.

Trunzo, who these days serves as president and CEO of CUNA Mutual Group, recalled the long days in 1989 when the Thompson administration hammered out an incentives package that kept General Motors in Janesville. The Milwaukee Sentinel billed the much-maligned deal as corporate welfare but Trunzo said the job-training money for the plant retooling project meant thousands of good-paying jobs for southern Wisconsin for nearly two decades. GM eventually did pull out and the plant closed in 2009.

Over the course of Thompson’s 14 years in the governor’s office, Wisconsin’s economy added 800,000 net jobs. More remarkable, according to entrepreneur and academician David J. Ward, the Badger State’s critical manufacturing sector created 100,000 jobs over the period. While Wisconsin’s industrial hiring increased 16 percent, U.S. factory jobs dropped off precipitously amid China’s manufacturing revolution.

When Thompson was first elected governor in 1986, Wisconsin was still shaking off the economic malaise of an early 1980s recession that saw significantly higher unemployment and soaring interest rates than did the so-called Great Recession nearly a decade ago. For most of the period from the 1970s until just before Thompson took the reins as governor, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was higher than the nation – often considerably higher, Ward said.

The Republican reformer did inherit an economy on the upswing, an economy that mostly stayed up over Thompson’s tenure. Ward and others who worked with Thompson acknowledged the governor was the benefactor of good luck, but this hard-working governor practiced what Roman philosopher Seneca preached: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Opportunity arrived in the form of ever rising caseloads of the dysfunctional welfare system known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Thompson campaigned for governor in 1986 on a promise of cutting into those caseload numbers, at around 100,000 recipients during his first year in office. Wisconsin had the fourth-highest AFDC rate in the country, recalled Mike Flaherty, who covered Thompson and welfare reform for the Wisconsin State Journal in the 1990s.

Thompson followed through on his campaign promise with one of the more impactful and far-reaching public policy changes in U.S. history.

“Upon taking office, Thompson initiated a series of reforms that cut welfare dependency during the late 1980s and blocked any resurgence during the 1990-93 recession,” wrote Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation in a March 1997 perspective piece titled, “Wisconsin’s Welfare Miracle.”

“Starting in 1994, a second round of more sophisticated work-related reforms has caused the caseload to nosedive further."

By the time he left the governor’s office in 2001 to become Health and Human Services secretary for President George W. Bush, the state had reduced its welfare roles by 93 percent “while putting an emphasis on putting people to work,” according to a May 2007 AP story.

The Thompson economy, former staffers and lawmakers said, served as a launching pad for what would become W-2, or Wisconsin Works. Wisconsin in 1997 became the first state in the nation to implement comprehensive welfare reform, replacing AFDC with “work not welfare.” State revenue boomed in the 1990s, when, as the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute once described it, “state government seemed to be able to do anything.”

“That was the era of elevated spending, new programs, and tax cuts – something for everyone,” a 2003 WPRI report stated in summing up the roaring ’90s.

Thompson was able to get welfare reform buy in from the welfare party, the Democrat-controlled Legislature, in large part because W-2 didn’t simply eliminate Aid to Families with Dependent Children, it replaced it with the expectation of work – and a suite of taxpayer-funded benefits to smooth the transition of welfare recipients into the job market. W-2 provided funding for job training, childcare, transportation, and other assistance, on the condition that recipients become gainfully employed within a set time period.

The state spent $155 million in 1997-98 and $177.4 million in the subsequent biennium for childcare assistance. That compared to $89.6 million in 1996-97.

Thompson’s 1993 welfare reform package included the Learnfare program, which requires the children of temporary cash assistance recipients to be in school or their parent or guardian would lose the public benefit.

Thompson took his case to the AFDC recipients who had long lived as dependents of the state. He met with welfare moms in Milwaukee and asked what it would take to move them off of government assistance and into the job market.

“We reached a compact. I said I would provide health care, day care and transportation if you guys would go to work,” Thompson recalled in a Tommy@30 interview, part of an upcoming documentary.

Jennifer Noyes, Distinguished Researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty, served as a senior administrator in the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development where she helped lead implementation of W-2.

Noyes, a panelist at the Tommy@30 symposium, stressed that welfare reform wasn’t reform; it was a replacement program.

“We tested concepts like: How do we get kids to school? How do we promote two-parent families? It was based on a set of philosophical principles.” The vision was simple: Only work should pay.

“This wasn’t just about requiring work for AFDC. It was about a work-based concept,” Noyes added.

At its core, Thompson’s welfare vision was not only about teaching people how to go to work, but that work was worth it.

W-2’s critics have said many of the AFDC recipients forced into the program transitioned into lower-paying service jobs. Then-state Sen. Gwen Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat who became Congresswoman Gwen Moore, told the New York Times that Thompson had done a “very good job of creating a class war here between working poor and AFDC recipients.”

Wisconsin Works, however, is replete with stories of people who were able to rise out of generational poverty. People who broke the chain of poverty for the next generation. Thompson’s W-2, as symposium panelists noted, gave poor people, particularly in African American communities, a sense of “expectation,” that somebody expected something from them, out of them. And the expectation finally was not that they fail, but that they succeed. That, experts say, is perhaps the most powerful component of Tommy Thompson’s “Only Work Should Pay” vision.

Eloise Anderson was on the frontline of the welfare reform or replacement battle of the late 1980s. Anderson, who has served as Secretary of the state Department of Children and Families since 2011, worked in Milwaukee at the Department of Social Services when Thompson rose to power. She remembers the moment she was ultimately sold on the need for change.

“I remember a guy came in in a wheelchair. He was unable to use his hands. He used a thing to write with his mouth. He said, ‘I want a job. I want to work.’ That turned it around for me,” said Anderson, also a panelist at the symposium. “In another program down the hall we had able-bodied people saying they couldn’t work. The disconnect was huge.”

It was difficult to understand unless you lived it, Anderson said. Poor, single mothers getting up every morning, getting their kids ready for school and going to work. And the person next door not doing that and getting government assistance. What was the message? What was the incentive to work?

“Our programs should mirror work. They shouldn’t treat people any differently than if they had to go to work,” Anderson said.

Thompson never stopped working on his Wisconsin Works vision. In January 1995, after his 24-month limit on AFDC cash benefits went into effect, the governor lamented to the New York Times about the continuous inflow of people looking to cash in on Wisconsin’s kindness.

“Twenty-eight percent of the newest people on welfare in Milwaukee County, their last known address is Chicago,” Thompson said. “We’re still 45 percent higher than Illinois. For an $8 bus ticket, you get $200 more coming to Wisconsin.” Wisconsinites “are just fed up to their eyeteeth with people comin’ from other states, not working. People in Wisconsin expect people to work – maybe it’s the old Germanic heritage, the old European heritage.”

Thompson’s vision resonates 30 years later.

As Noyes notes in her overview, “The Legacy of Welfare Reform,” Wisconsin’s average monthly AFDC caseload declined from 98,307 in 1986, to 10,185 in September 1998 – one year after W-2 was implemented statewide. As of March, the total caseload was 9,117, 5,908 of those were paid placements.

In 1999, Wisconsin was recognized “as one of the pioneer states in the area of welfare reform.” The Innovations in American Government Awards Program summed up the state’s success, asserting that “…Wisconsin has seen a wholesale shift in the system, from one that critics argued did little more than determine eligibility and hand out checks to a new system that aggressively and proactively keeps or moves people off welfare by emphasizing work.”

Several states adopted portions of Wisconsin’s W-2 welfare replacement plan, and Thompson’s approach to reform was a huge inspiration behind the federal AFDC replacement model of 1996.

While the W-2 philosophy of rewarding work experienced some reversals during the dependency state days of Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle’s two terms in the 2000s, Republican Gov. Scott Walker again has made welfare reform a priority.

Walker’s latest budget proposal includes “Wisconsin Works for Everyone,” a welfare program aimed at expanding on Thompson’s Wisconsin Works.

“Wisconsin Works for Everyone, like Governor Thompson’s original W-2 initiative, is based on the fundamental principle that work is dignifying and connects individuals to society and to its values,” Walker said in January. “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.”

The package, some of which has passed the Joint Finance Committee, includes greater investment in job and skills training, with expanded obligations for working-age, able-bodied adults receiving public housing and other assistance.

Hard work was at the heart of everything Tommy Thompson did in public service, those who know him best say. From his early days in small town Elroy to his failed U.S. Senate run against ultraliberal Tammy Baldwin in 2012 to his “quieter days” as elder statesman, 75-year-old Tommy Thompson has always been a believer in the dignity of work. So it is no surprise that he invested so much of his heart and time in fixing a broken system that had so long punished people for daring to work.

“He believed people, if given an opportunity, could succeed, independently of the government,” daughter Kelli Thompson said.

May 23, 2017 | By M. D. Kittle

Finance Committee Approves Welfare Reform On Tommy@30 Day

On a day devoted to the legacy of Wisconsin’s longest-serving governor and its pioneer welfare reformer, the Legislature’s budget committee took up several welfare reform measures.

Before Tuesday afternoon’s Joint Finance Committee meeting, Wisconsin state government leaders past and present turned out for a Public Policy Symposium examined the innovator and master politician that is former Gov. Tommy Thompson.

The symposium is among several events scheduled this year in the Tommy@30 series, marking the 30th anniversary of the Republican’s first inauguration as governor – the first of many over a remarkable 14-year career as Wisconsin’s chief executive.

Among Thompson’s myriad accomplishments, the governor may be best remembered for his Wisconsin Works, or W-2, his signature welfare reform package of the mid-1990s.

“Few governors have had such an impact on the nation’s life,” James Klauser, chairman of the Tommy@30 committee, Secretary of the Department of Administration under Thompson and one of the former governor’s closest advisors, said in a press release. Klauser was among several former Thompson administration officials at Tuesday’s symposium.

“Tommy Thompson’s welfare reforms and job creation policies helped millions enjoy the dignity of work and independence,” Klauser added.

Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature have sought to follow in Thompson’s welfare reform footsteps.

Walker, who has been a national leader in government reform over his term and a half in office, earlier this year rolled out a package of welfare reforms billed as “Wisconsin Works for Everyone.” Walker has sold the proposals as the next generation of Wisconsin Works.

Walker in January toured the state with Thompson. He pledged to make Wisconsin a national leader again in welfare reform, as Thompson had done in the 1990s.

Joint Finance Committee Republicans on Tuesday moved toward the fulfillment of that promise, getting behind Walker’s proposal that would expand drug screening and testing for participants in the state’s welfare-to-work program.

Republican lawmakers in 2015 passed a similar measure. Walker’s plan expands the earlier reform measure, requiring welfare recipients who fail a drug test to seek treatment in order to receive benefits. The JFC motion passed 12-4, with the committee’s four Democrats voting against.

On the same party-line vote, the JFC passed another Walker initiative that would trim W-2 benefits for families of children who are habitually truant and who do not cooperate with case management services to improve attendance. Currently, state law cuts benefits for families of children not enrolled in school.

Walker’s plan to eliminate the so-called “benefits cliff” in the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program received unanimous approval from the committee, although a provision that would restrict would-be welfare recipients with $25,000 or more in liquid assets from receiving benefits seemed to thoroughly confuse Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

“If you are a low-income individual, we want to help you, but you can’t have a lot of cash sitting there,” said Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, attempting to explain the liquid cash limits.

Current law discontinues child care subsidies for families with incomes at 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. Joint Finance Committee Chairwoman Sen. Alberta Darling, (R-River HIlls) has said the cliff is a disincentive to breaking the welfare chains. Walker’s plan provides a sliding scale, allowing child care program participants to receive $1 for every $3 earned in excess of the eligibility limit. Benefits end once income hits 85 percent of the state’s median income. The cost is projected at $4 million, over two years, funded through federal cash.

The committee also unanimously pushed aside Walker’s proposed two-year, $1 million ad campaign encouraging the critical role fathers play in their children’s lives. The ad campaign would highlight what has been described as the “success sequence,” the idea that people who graduate from high school, work a full-time job and have children while married after the age of 21 are much more successful than those who don’t follow this formula.

The importance of two-parent homes is an idea that Eloise Anderson has long advocated. Wisconsin’s Secretary of Children and Families who was at the forefront of Tommy Thompson-era welfare reform, recalled the battles surrounding W-2 at the Tommy@30 symposium. She said Democrats fought against the assertion that “we wouldn’t have had so many poor families if we had intact families.”

“There was never such a fight as the fight against fathers being in the home,” Anderson said.

At a separate event, Republicans and university officials announced the proposed Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership to be located on the UW-Madison campus. JFC Republicans declined to comment on the cost. Liberals instantly blasted the proposal, fearing the nonpartisan center would be a conservative think tank. UW-Madison is arguably one of the more liberal universities in the country with no shortage of left-leaning thought centers, programs and initiatives.

March 23, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

Wisconsin Works for Everyone: Welfare Reform in Walker’s Budget Proposal

**April 6, 2017: Update **

The Joint Finance Committee has scrapped all non-fiscal policy items from the Governor’s budget proposal, including many items described in this piece. Read more about the latest move out of the budget committee here. In the below piece, any policy items with an asterisk beside them are now struck from the budget and may be introduced as separate bills.

One major component of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-2019 biennial budget proposal is his continuing efforts to reform welfare programs. The Walker team began unveiling their “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” plan as early as January of this year. As preparation for the coming Joint Committee on Finance agency briefings and public hearings continues, let’s look at the Governor’s proposal.

Wisconsin Works for Everyone touts four initiatives:

  • Encouraging and rewarding work by helping Wisconsinites move towards self-sufficiency
  • Strengthening families by supporting parents and positive norms
  • Investing in success by prioritizing education
  • Practicing good stewardship by enhancing program integrity and effectiveness.

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.

For the following provisions, half of the funding allocated is from General Purpose Revenue (GPR), and the other half is federal money.

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.

The next section in encouraging work focuses on helping ex-offenders integrate back into society. The largest line-item in this category is $2 million in GPR to expand the Windows to Work and Vocational Training programs, which provide job training for inmates before, during, and after their time in a correctional facility. Windows to Work, for example, provides pre- and post-release services, such as assisting ex-inmates in job searches. Another $1.1 million is provided through Wisconsin Fast Forward to fund two new mobile classrooms that will provide job skills training for inmates preparing for release.

Many of these provisions focus on connecting inmates with services sooner so that they can begin creating a path to independence and self-sufficiency.

Other provisions include:

  • $555,400 in GPR for the creation of a mentorship pilot program to provide inmates with volunteer citizen mentors to get matched with as they approach release. One goal of this pilot program is to help inmates establish safe and productive relationships and ideally, secure employment before leaving prison.
  • **Funding for a new position at the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to expand and streamline securing apprenticeship positions for inmates.
  • $437,500 in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding for a five-year demonstration project that would focus on noncustodial parents in Milwaukee.
  • **Inmates within six months of release would be housed at county jails so that they can participate in work-release and similar employment programs.

The plan also includes a few provisions that aim to help homeless people improve their lives and build self-sufficiency. $1 million in TANF funding is included to establish a grant program to ten homeless shelters to create employment-focused case management. Another provision sets up a pilot matching grant so that municipalities can deploy a van to pick up able-bodied homeless individuals and pay for them to clean up public spaces. This idea, modeled on Albuquerque’s “Better Way” project, allocates $150,000 in GPR funding.

Walker’s plan changes certain tax credits to better reward hard workers. The state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable credit for low-income families, is expanded so that parents with one child could receive up to $371, rather than the current maximum benefit of $135. This provision is anticipated to affect 131,000 filers every year and cost $20.8 million in all-funds spending. Under current law, EITC benefits for families with three children are nearly 16 times larger than the benefits for families with just one child. This change creates more equity across the tax credit and brings Wisconsin closer in line with other states.

The EITC is also expanded to a new population – noncustodial low-income parents who pay child support on time and in full. Those individuals would receive two-thirds of the benefits that custodial parents can receive, to ensure that parents without custody do not receive more benefits than parents with full custody, but also to ensure that people who are working and supporting for their families are rewarded. This provision would affect 1,100 people per year and cost $230,000 in GPR.

The Homestead Tax Credit is also modified under Walker’s proposal – benefits for the elderly and disabled would be indexed to inflation to protect those who are unable to work. At the same time, the credit is restructured for able-bodied adults in order to encourage employment. The savings from those changes would be re-invested to pay for the EITC expansion.

A brand new credit, the Young Adult Employment Assistance Credit, is created to help young adults for the first three years after aging out of foster care or those who leave the federal SSI-disabled children program. An estimated 2,000 filers would be affected each year to the tune of $724,400.

Walker’s plan also works to reduce barriers to unemployment. A brand new Occupational Licensing Review Council would offer recommendations on the elimination of current licenses, and “Sunrise Reports” would be required from the Department of Administration on any new proposed licenses.** Other provisions include:

  • **A feasibility study on a program to help the long-term unemployed move to areas of better economic opportunity.
  • Strengthening drug testing for new Wisconsin Works participants to help individuals overcome substance abuse barriers.

Fast Forward funds would be made available to develop new employer resource networks to increase the success of workers leaving public benefits programs.

Finally, the plan eliminates the “benefit cliff” in the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program. Currently, individuals lose eligibility for child care subsidies as soon as they make 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, making it difficult for individuals to slowly earn more money and leave public benefits programs. Rather, a sliding scale is created, so that individuals could receive $1 for every $3 earned in excess of the eligibility limit.

Still with me? Good. The next section focuses on families:

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.

The Walker budget also spends $11.5 million in GPR and 2 full time positions for DWD’s workforce training grant program, called Wisconsin Fast Forward. Any of the following activities would be made eligible for Fast Forward grant funding:

  • Collaborative projects among school districts, tech colleges, and local businesses to provide high school students with industry-recognized certifications in high-demand fields
  • Programs that train teachers and that train individuals to become teachers
  • Development of public-private partnerships that are designed to improve workforce retention
  • Efforts by nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher education, and employers to increase the number of students who attain internships
  • Community-based organizations for public-private partnerships to create a new nursing training program for middle and high school students

What do you think? With a breadth of provisions spanning several different departments, the Wisconsin Works for Everyone plan is thoroughly comprehensive. Do you have a favorite provision or section? What should the Walker team focus on more or less? Let us know in the comments and on social media! As always, make sure to follow @MacIverWisc for all your state budget news.

** indicates that the item has been removed from the budget, as of April 6, 2017.

January 23, 2017 | MacIver News Service

Gov. Walker Announces New Welfare Reform Plan

Former Gov. Thompson joins Walker to unveil ambitious “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” initiative

Governor Scott Walker announced his plan on Monday to make it easier for people on welfare to re-enter the workforce. The initiative, called Wisconsin Works for Everyone, is intended to help people move off government assistance by finding jobs.

The wide-ranging plan expands work requirements for those on the state’s FoodShare program, requiring able bodied adults with school-age children to either work 80 hours per month or enroll in a job training program. It would also expand work requirements to working-age able-bodied adults on housing assistance.

The new work requirements expand on Walker’s 2015 FoodShare reform, which required able-bodied childless adults to work 80 hours per month or enroll in the FoodShare Employment Training program. Since that reform was implemented, 21,000 participants have found employment.

The plan also seeks to eliminate the “benefits cliffs” in the childcare assistance and Medicaid Purchase Plan (MAPP) programs. In both programs, a recipient loses all benefits at a certain income threshold, which means taking pay raises, promotions and more hours at work could cost the recipient all their benefits. Walker’s plan introduces a phase-out model for the benefits as a recipients’ income rises.

In addition, Walker’s plan would reform occupational licensing practices in the state, providing more scrutiny for proposed new occupational licenses and a review process for existing licenses.

It would also strengthen child support work programs in a pilot program involving five counties, help offenders re-enter the workforce with vocational training and work placement, and provide grants to help develop employer resource networks that connect job seekers with work. The plan also creates two new tax credits to incentivize work.

Former governor Tommy Thompson and many of his administration’s officials joined Walker at a news conference Monday afternoon to help unveil the agenda. Thompson said that before his administration’s 1996 Wisconsin Works welfare reform, 200,000 people were on the state’s welfare rolls. After W-2, only 5,000 were enrolled.

“Wisconsin Works for Everyone, like Governor Thompson’s original W-2 initiative, is based on the fundamental principle that work is dignifying and connects individuals to society and to its values,” Walker said.

Top Senate Republicans praised Walker’s plan.

“Our goal is to transition the government from the role of provider to connector, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to realize their full potential and improve their lives,” said Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), chair of the Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing, and State-Federal Relations.

“The governor’s plan moves Wisconsin one step closer to achieving that goal and promotes economic opportunity by addressing our state’s burdensome occupational licensing regulations,” Kapenga added.

Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) said, “As I travel my district and speak to employers, I have heard stories of government assistance recipients who will become worse off by taking a new job or pay increase. Government assistance should incentive – not penalize – full-time work. These ideas make it easier to climb the economic ladder.”

More specifics of Walker’s reform initiative will be provided in his budget proposal next month.


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