Walker unveils welfare reform package

Work requirements, additional job training among proposals

Gov. Scott Walker following a press conference at Employ Milwaukee in August.

Gov. Scott Walker is proposing a welfare reform package that establishes work requirements for parents of school-aged children receiving food stamps, seeks to prevent income-based drop offs in benefits and invests additional money in job training.

Gov. Scott Walker following a press conference at Employ Milwaukee in August.
Gov. Scott Walker following a press conference at Employ Milwaukee in August.

Walker says  the package, called “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” expands on work done by former Gov. Tommy Thompson in the 1990s. The governor is highlighting it during stops in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Eau Claire and Madison today. Thompson is scheduled to join Walker at the Madison stop.

“This set of initiatives is focused on helping those disconnected from employment realize their potential in the workforce,” Walker said. “We have every intention of leading the nation when it comes to helping people create better lives for themselves and their families through work, just like Governor Thompson.”

The proposal was praised by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce as something that would “actually incentivize work.”

“One of the biggest problems we routinely hear from our members is that the welfare system in our state and country creates a disincentive to work,” said Scott Manley, WMC senior vice president of government relations. “Gov. Walker’s proposed reforms would actually incentivize work, while making sure our government is still providing a hand up to those in need.”

A release and other information on the proposals from Walker’s office did not include figures for how much funding the package would require. A spokeswoman said additional details would be in the budget proposal.

The full package will be included in Walker’s budget proposal in February. The package includes provisions that would:

  • Extend work requirements to able-bodied adults with school-age children receiving FoodShare.

The expansion would be done on a pilot basis “largely consistent” with requirements put in place for those without dependent children. Those not working 80 hours a month would have to participate in a job training program, but benefits would not be time-limited and any sanctions for noncompliance would affect only the adult’s allotment.

  • Direct the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority to seek a federal waiver from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to pilot a work requirement for working-age, able-bodied adults receiving housing vouchers.

Walker’s office said the program would be paired with intensive case management and partnerships with employment service providers.

  • Eliminate the “benefits cliff” in child care subsidies.

Walker’s office says families receiving child care subsidies can currently lose more in subsidies than they gain from working more hours or taking a raise when they reach 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The proposal would establish a phase-out structure where a family’s co-payment increases by $1 for every $3 earned above the line.

  • Remove the “premium cliff” for those enrolled in the Medicaid Purchase Plan

The program allows people with disabilities the opportunity to purchase health coverage through the state Medicaid program even if their income is above traditional limits. The proposal would seek to eliminate the “premium cliff” at 150 percent of the poverty line while also requiring proof of paid employment, in-kind work or pre-employment programming to be eligible for additional support.

  • Establish two new earned-income tax credits

One tax credit would be for young adults aging out of foster care and those exiting the Supplemental Security Income child disability program at age 18.

The other would be for low-income noncustodial parents who are fulfilling child support obligations by paying formal child support on time and in full throughout the year through employment in the formal economy.

Walker’s office did not specify the size of the tax credits.

  • Fund expansion of Supporting Parents, Supporting Kids

Walker’s proposal would provide funding for a five-county demonstration of a program currently piloted in Brown and Kenosha counties. The program aims to help parents struggling to meet their child support obligations. The expansion would shift the program from elective to court-ordered for those at risk of jail time for non-payment and would expand to include those unemployed or underemployed when child support is ordered.

  • Increase efforts to help offenders reenter the workforce

Walker’s proposal calls for an expansion of Windows to Work, a program that seeks to reduce recidivism in medium and high-risk offenders. It would also expand vocational training for offenders through the Wisconsin Technical College System, fund two new mobile labs for technical training at institutions, dedicate a Department of Workforce Development position to expanding registered apprenticeships for inmates, provide inmates with additional opportunities for inmates to connect with the community prior to release, expand a reentry program for those with serious mental illness to five more counties and establish a pilot mentorship program for inmates as they approach release and for the first year after.

Walker’s office did not say how much funding the additional programs would require.

  • Fund Employer Resource Networks

The proposal would also make DWD’s Fast Forward grants available to help with the development of Employer Resource Networks. The networks are described as a group of employers, outside organizations and public sector entities working to increase retention of employees with barriers to entering the workforce while reducing the cost of turnover.

  • Reform occupational licensing

The proposal would require any legislation requiring a new individual or business license to undergo an analysis, termed a “sunrise report” to determine if the license is the least restrictive way to address potential public health or safety concerns.

The proposal would also create a “Sunset Council” to apply the same criteria to existing license and continuing education requirements and make recommendations about potential repeal.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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