MacIver News Service | January 18, 2018
By Chris Rochester
MADISON, Wis. – 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.
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.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 incl. FoodShare. #WelfareReform #wiright #wipolitics Click To Tweet
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.'We have an opportunity to help people fundamentally transform their lives with these bold reforms,' said @SenatorKapenga about new #WelfareReform initiative. #wiright #wipolitics @GovWalker Click To Tweet