How 70,000 People Lost Food Stamps
And how this cost state taxpayers $54 million.
Working for a living is the best possible way to assure that you have food on the table in Wisconsin. FoodShare reforms in Wisconsin—including mandatory work for able-bodied adults—end FoodShare eligibility for three years after a three-month grace period. As a result, hunger has increased for many, pushing folks further into dependency on food pantries.
In 2014, Wisconsin boldly volunteered to create state-funded job training programs—experimenting first in Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties, and then rolling out mandatory FoodShare time limits across the state by April 2015. Wisconsin tied mandatory work requirements to food assistance for low income Wisconsinites. This resulted in the loss of FoodShare benefits—food buying power—for tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, many still living in areas with more people than jobs.
To celebrate Labor Day, Wisconsin issued a press release on the successes of forced work. It said 18,299 people became employed. They earned wages of $12.21, “well above” the state’s embarrassing minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. But guess what? Most are still dependent on FoodShare—because their wages have not lifted them from poverty.
Wisconsin’s bold experiment cost state taxpayers $54 million in general purpose revenue (GPR) funding. Sure, it was matched by the federal government dollar for dollar, but with no one evaluating the other costs to our economy. Wisconsin closed the FoodShare cases of nearly 70,000 people, robbing grocers, farmers and the transportation industry of over $12.6 million dollars in lost federal FoodShare revenue. 100% of FoodShare is funded by the federal government. The punchline: Wisconsin spent $54 million to job train 54,412 enrollees to lose over $12.6 million in federal funds. Well played Wisconsin.
When the job training program started in April 2015, 766,468 people were relying on FoodShare in Wisconsin according to a recent open records request. These folks were children, seniors and hard-working minimum wage earners—the bulk of people who rely on FoodShare across the nation. The data showed that 68,812 recipients were subject to the work requirements, with a whopping 62,342 being labeled as “non-ABWAD” (able-bodied working adults). Although able-bodied working adults are targeted for this program, it appears that the majority of its participants are volunteers. These are people who would be exempt from work requirements including pregnant women, adults with young or school-aged children, seniors, people with disabilities (including veterans) and the homeless. People on FoodShare volunteered for work because they want to work. Volunteering for and receiving actual job training helps people. Mandating unpaid work and denying FoodShare does not—especially in Wisconsin, where we mean-mouth the poor, cast broad assumptions about their status into the airwaves and make it almost impossible to eat well enough to be healthy. Wisconsin is tough as hell on the poor and proves it every day by spending money on fruitless online job training courses, forced volunteerism and endless run arounds to prove you are complying.
Making people hungry in the Dairy State is an outrage. This work requirement isn’t the only proposed reform. Next up to bat is drug testing for people on FoodShare. Reportedly, employers across the state can’t hire or keep people employed due to drug addiction in their workforce. Our answer in Wisconsin is to forward legislation, lawsuits and experiments to widely drug test the poor. Ignoring the US Constitution, Wisconsin proposes testing people on FoodShare for employment-disqualifying drug use. Although this costly maneuver has been proposed and struck down in multiple states as well as proven completely ineffective, facts are not stopping our Governor or legislature from denying the poor their right to be free of unwarranted search.
The FoodShare Program provides people with food buying power. It offers a safety net of monthly assistance. It is not intended to be a “lifestyle,” except, of course, for people on social security income. Poor seniors lacking pensions and people who have been disabled for their lifetime and unable to work receive a whopping $15 in month in FoodShare. The average household benefit in Wisconsin is $106 monthly. This is not a program that provides enough food buying power adequate to keep people out of food pantries and soup kitchens. These charities offer 3-5 days of food, once per month and are constantly strained to capacity.
If after reading all of this, you are feeling judgmental about the poor because you have seen something or heard some story repeated that vilifies a person you feel entitled to judge—keep it to yourself. Find a quiet place to reconsider your negativity and then find a later time to learn about what you don’t know. Tens of thousands of people right here in Wisconsin are suffering and you can do something to help. Telling someone to get a job when there is no job is ignorant. Intentionally creating hunger is anti-Wisconsin.
Sherrie Tussler is the executive director of Hunger Task Force.