15,000 People Have Lost Food Assistance
Soup kitchens and food shelters flooded with hungry people needing help.
Hunger Task Force believes that the most dignified way to get food is at the store with earnings from your job. Work is critical to family stability and quality of life in our community.
We believe that everyone who can work, should and that wages and benefits from work should sustain our basic needs for food, clothing, housing and medical costs. Climbing out of the recession, there are sharp opinions on how to get people to back to work. Our latest idea in Wisconsin is to motivate people with the threat of hunger. Wisconsin has volunteered to create a mandatory work program for people on FoodShare ages 18-49. If you need help with food and don’t work, then Wisconsin takes away your government assistance.
Recent changes to FoodShare work requirements for able-bodied adults have proven truly costly to Wisconsin taxpayers and resulted in great harm to many. Within the first three months of the mandatory work program, 15,000 Wisconsinites have lost their food buying power.
In Milwaukee, an out-of-state for-profit company named ResCare was hired to provide job training and placement. They have done little to solve our unemployment problem and actually much to increase the very dependency they are charged to overcome. A whopping 7% of the people ResCare is tasked to help have started a job or a work placement. The people ResCare serves are getting fired from FoodShare for three years at a rate of 53%.
ResCare reports placing 3,991 people in work in Southeastern Wisconsin. They remain silent on how many of these jobs pay a wage that lifts folks off government dependency. One dirty little secret about this outcome is that “work placement” includes mandatory volunteerism that doesn’t pay a dime. Participants get to keep their FoodShare as long as they comply with assigned volunteerism. Mandatory work in exchange for subsistence levels of food is slavery, not a job.
Beyond these poor outcomes, ResCare set up shop without assuring compliance with the Civil Rights Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Job seekers were asked illegal and probative questions about their mental health, family drug histories and domestic violence. ResCare’s abuses of Milwaukeeans resulted in Wisconsin’s Department of Health Service being placed in corrective action by the USDA.
The lessons of mandating work have been painful here in Milwaukee. In the first three months after the change, 8,100 people have lost their food buying power and are now lining up at the soup kitchen. Each month, another 2,700 are projected to join their ranks—human proof that mandating work does not result in employment. It also doesn’t create jobs.
The costs of mandating employment are extreme. Wisconsin taxpayers are shelling out $50 million annually for this mandatory work program. Simultaneously, they are shunning $66 million in federal revenue that fuels food producers, stores and the transportation industry. What it comes down to is investing money to lose money to punish the poor.
Milwaukee is a Labor Surplus Area—we have more people looking for work than jobs. When welfare was reformed in 1996, a provision was created that exempted areas of high poverty without enough jobs. It allows these Labor Surplus Areas more time to recover economically, create meaningful work and assure a safety net for the unemployed.
An inexpensive solution is within reach. Wisconsin can request a waiver from time limits for Milwaukee County. A letter directed to the USDA from DHS is all it would take to end this failed reform.
Let’s stop wasting State tax dollars on reforms that hurt people. Let’s engage local community institutions capable of creating meaningful solutions to unemployment. Let’s end poverty and hunger through wages that sustain working people.
Sherrie Tussler is the executive director of Hunger Task Force.