Sherrie Tussler
Op Ed

How 70,000 People Lost Food Stamps

And how this cost state taxpayers $54 million.

By , Hunger Task Force - Sep 7th, 2017 02:41 pm
In April 2015, 766,468 people were relying on FoodShare in Wisconsin.

In April 2015, 766,468 people were relying on FoodShare in Wisconsin.

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.

Corporations experienced success, however! Along the way, Wisconsin hired a for-profit, out-of-state company to reap the rewards of forcing people towards work, altogether ignoring our existing, extremely successful technical college system. ResCare, with a strong history of underperformance but the strength of a Hoover vacuum came to Milwaukee and sucked up all the GPR funding—nearly $25 million in Milwaukee alone. The service they provided was to sift through poor people; tell them to get a job and prove it; and to ignore federal regulations related to the program. ResCare workers received incentive bonuses for placing people in temporary work with day labor organizations. Participants experienced violations of their civil rights and their privacy, with many receiving the harshest penalty—no federal food support for three years—case closed.

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.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

15 thoughts on “Op Ed: How 70,000 People Lost Food Stamps”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    “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.”

    You know who you are.

  2. Jason Troll says:

    Vince, my personal favorite is the notion that grocers were robbed. Did anyone ever considered that maybe the grocer gained a new employee, and with that new experience that employee felt important that they were part of a family. Did the author consider maybe that individual gain self esteem and self worth maybe a promotion in a few months. In many cases, individuals feel good earning a living, maybe they begin to start a credit history or open a bank account. There is a sense of freedom in buying your first car or stater home. You did this with your own skills and experience.. .

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    Yes Troll you’re absolutely right. You have a way with words.

  4. AG says:

    Wow… “forced work” I don’t even know how to address that.

    Job training helped over 18,000 people get work and that is made out to be a bad thing?

    The author was able to create quite the fake out though. Stating how many people rely on foodshare and mentioning how many are children, seniors, and hard-working minimum wage earners but blurs the fact that those people have nothing to do with the work requirements that this article is purportedly about. Just as her words make one believe that “unpaid work” aka, volunteering and improving themselves and their community, would still result in denied foodshare benefits…

    OK, then she just starts going off in all directions. I’m not sure what the point is anymore. Her last paragraph just boggles the mind. The work requirements are not about judgement, it’s about helping people get to a place where they can improve their situation.

    People try to say that supporters of the program just don’t understand… but I still have yet to hear a good explanation of what is stopping people from the minimum requirements if they don’t have children, are not disabled, do not have a drug addiction, or basically meet any of the other exemptions.

  5. GRNDPAKWH says:

    Let us not forget that this same legislature and former Milwaukee County Exec, now Governor, has repeatedly blocked mass transit to get the people from where they live to the jobs.

  6. Vincent Hanna says:

    It isn’t a bad thing that they found work. It’s that they still are extremely poor. I imagine even you can see the difference there.

    AG do you think there are thousands and thousands of people in Milwaukee who are healthy and able-bodied and simply choose not to work or look for work so they can live off welfare (which doesn’t exactly make one rich)? What stereotypes are you working with exactly?

  7. Jk says:

    GRNDPAKWH. While I can actually support light rail once it expands out (the downtown loop is useless), doesn’t the bus system can’t get them to jobs?
    As far as the people not wanting to work. I actually have a relative who is somewhat like this. He will find every reason not to take a job. Amazon has poor working conditions, Government is Republicans, someone gave them a bad re view on, I have two degrees they should pay me more, etc.
    Part of the problem with the system is when you start earning a living wage you are actually losing a lot of benefits and also paying taxes on your earnings. This can be a disincentive to work. While they may be paid $12/hr they probably only gain $2/hr. Because of the benefits lost. So why work then?
    The idea of the program is to get these people to work anyway. This way they cost less on social welfare and hopefully eventually get to a point where they are making enough so they are not poor and cost nothing towards social welfare. Also, you can have a benefit of changing a climate of people growing up where people live off of social benefits to one where people go to jobs and work. People can be (don’t have to be) a product of their environments. An environment where people go to work, can have a positive impact in the long term.
    Finally this program also helps to eliminate people who game the system by working for cash. While not everyone does. I have known people that have done this.

  8. Bea says:

    Republican Teavangelicals: We’re gonna make you better people even if it kills you.

  9. Jason Troll says:

    Vince about 1 in 10 able bodied adults work two jobs. Is it too much to ask an able bodied adult to work part time to receive government entitlements.

  10. cheddarbob says:

    Let me say the beltway Wisconsin Rubes talking about a balanced budget amendment couldn’t be more hysterical with this bit of nonsense added to it. Every bit of federal money they forfeit seems to dovetail with some squandering of state revenues.

  11. cheddarbob says:

    The Horatio Algers among the commentators here really like examining the finer points of why it isn’t cruel to kick able bodied adults of FoodShare. They don’t have much to say about the seniors and kids effected by this, who may depend on those people being denied benefits.

  12. cheddarbob says:

    Referring to Jason Troll, I worked in the grocery business for quite awhile and I’ve seen food stamps connect food stamp recipients with the products of Wisconsin farmers and processors. Grocers will take a hit.

  13. AG says:

    cheddarbob, seniors and kids are not affected by this program. This only affects able bodied adults who, among other exceptions, do not have dependent children and are not on SSI.

    This is the problem with people who cry foul about things like this, they make an emotional case out of misinformation.

  14. cheddarbob says:

    AG, 18,000 jobs to 54,000 enrollees trained to 70,000 people losing coverage are rotten numbers for a piece of public policy. Add to that, the Republicans blew $54 million trying to prove poor people in Wisconsin didn’t deserve $12 million in federal money. I’ve yet to hear anybody in your corner make a convincing argument how this benefits the state and isn’t a typical piece of social Darwinian garbage that’s designed to fail in every way possible.

  15. Jacqueleen Clark says:

    A safety net in place supports the steps needed to get to full self sufficiency regardless of the time it takes to get there. Unfortunately, greed and power has now determined ones destiny. If you can’t get there in 3 months to bad. Bottom line the WI state legislature (GOV) hates the poor who are mostly people of color who live in urban Milwaukee the hardest hit. Please understand most poor low income folks rather work. If wages $15 and the means 21st century public transportation system were in place to support full self sufficiency.

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