Joint Finance Approves FoodShare Work Requirements, Sale of State Assets

MacIver News Service | May 22, 2013

[Madison, Wisc…] The Joint Committee on Finance voted on Tuesday to require able-bodied childless adults to find a job or participate in a work-training program to receive FoodShare benefits.

The work requirements are a big part of Governor Scott Walker’s plan to take on entitlement reform.

The Committee adopted a modified plan of the Governor’s proposal. Funding for the plan would be reduced by $2.36 million in both General Purpose Funding and federal funding in 2014-2015. This modification was made to reflect the revised estimate of Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) currently enrolled in FoodShare.

The motion will also require the Department of Health Services to provide a report to JFC that would include the results of an evaluation of the program, an estimate of the number of ABAWDs that are subject to the three-month time limit, and the impacts of the work requirement policy.

Lastly, the motion requires that JFC budget all funding for the work program, “including base funding in new GPR and FED continuing appropriations, rather than as part of the income maintenance county allocations.”

Under the new work requirement program, ABAWDs will be required to be employed at least 20 hours per week, participate in a work-training program at least 20 hours per week, or a combination of the two.

Representative Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) called the program mean-spirited in a statement about the new requirements. “Forcing taxpayers to pay more for less never makes sense, but when it means taking food away from our struggling neighbors and friends, that’s unconscionable,” said Richards.

Republican members of the Committee echoed Governor Walker’s view about moving people from government dependence to independence.

Representative Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) said that the new work requirements would help people find a job and get training. “It’s not about taking away the fish, It’s about teaching someone to fish,” Knudson said during the debate.

JFC also approved a measure from Walker that would allow the state to sell or lease state owned assets like heating, cooling, and power plants.

The provision would allow the Department of Administration and the Building Commission to sell or lease properties if it is in the best interest of the state. Committee members added more oversight to the program to ensure all sales would go through a fair and transparent process.

The state would not be allowed to sell assets that were at least 50 percent funded by federal funds or private gifts or grants. All properties would be required to be assessed by DOA and at least one privately owned assessor and JFC would have final say on the approval of the sale.

Opponents to the measure decried the proposal saying there would be no-bid sales of UW dormitories, Camp Randall, and the Capitol Building.

“I don’t think any Governor should be allowed to craft back room deals and sell state highways, power plants, or UW buildings without an open and transparent competitive bid process,” said Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) in a statement.

Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said that there would be oversight to keep the bid process transparent and ensure a good deal for taxpayers. “Who on this committee would allow a sale if it hadn’t been transparent?” Darling asked of her colleagues during debate referring to the fact that JFC would make the final decision on any sale.

JFC also debated the administrative budget for the Department of Public Instruction and approved most of the Governor’s proposals including $3.3 million in funding to track student growth using the WISEdash system, $1.1 million to implement stronger career counseling in grades 6-12, and $500,000 annually for Teach for America in Milwaukee.

The Committee was scheduled to discuss new testing standards and the implementation of new standardized tests in schools, but they did not debate the proposal and will discuss it at a later hearing.

The next executive session of JFC is on Thursday at 10am. The Committee will debate budget items for the Department of Justice, Department of Transportation, and the UW System.