Wisconsin Medicaid Director Heather Smith
Op Ed

Gov. Walker’s Common Sense Welfare Reforms

Critics are wrong, it’s all about workforce readiness.

By - Mar 22nd, 2018 11:03 am
FoodShare Employment and Training. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

FoodShare Employment and Training

Recently Senator Kathleen Vinehout penned an opinion piece harshly critical of strong new welfare reforms championed by Governor Scott Walker, loaded with spurious claims that the disabled would lose their vehicles and farm families their livestock. Even a cursory glance at the legislation reveals these claims to be obviously, patently false. Let’s set the record straight.

Wisconsinites are generous people. We consistently rank in the top five of America’s most charitable states, and that generosity extends to our many welfare programs. The Tax Policy Center shows our state and local welfare expenditures are above the national average, and highest among the Great Lakes states.

Wisconsinites are happy to provide assistance to families in need. And we’re even happier when we can provide skills training, drug treatment, or other tools to break down barriers to employment—because another one of our Wisconsin values is the belief that work is the path to dignity and true independence.

Under the leadership of Governor Walker, we have continued Wisconsin’s legacy of leadership in welfare reform by focusing on workforce readiness. We provide more than just a check, but access to the kinds of training and treatment able-bodied adults need to get back on their feet and back in the workforce.

These newest reforms will expand work and training participation for able-bodied adults on FoodShare, require able-bodied adults to pay their child support, and require drug screening for state housing. In addition, we would put in place generous asset limits constraining the value of cash/stocks to $25,000, homes to $312,000, and personal vehicles to $20,000 for participants in welfare programs.

For context, half of Americans have under $1,000 in their savings accounts, and the median savings account balance is just over $5,000. The median-valued home in Wisconsin is half of the new limits—a bit over $150,000, and the average used-car price is just over $19,000. Contrary to Vinehout’s claims, farm land, equipment, livestock, and buildings are all excluded. People with disabilities and the elderly have been, and will continue to be, exempt from work requirements and asset limits.

The focus of these proposals is to assure the state provides good benefits to those truly in need, as well as the tools to break down any barriers to independence and employment.

With unemployment in Wisconsin at historic lows, and 90,000 jobs listed on the state’s employment website, employers are feeling the pinch as they struggle to find skilled, drug-free workers. And job seekers are facing the reality that they may need some training to get the job they want.

Increasingly job openings are for middle-skilled workers—those with more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree—while the workforce skillset is mismatched. Nationally, 53% of openings are for that middle-skilled worker, while only 43% of workers fit the description.

Skills and training can make – and are making in Wisconsin – the difference between being un- or underemployed, and filling an in-demand position that pays well, and offers the potential for career growth.

That’s where our FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program can help. Since 2015, Governor Walker and the legislature have invested $60 million – above and beyond regular benefits to recipients – into this program that provides training and employment assistance to help able-bodied FoodShare recipients find a good, or a better, job.

Far from being a disadvantage to recipients, FSET adds value, giving people an opportunity to enhance their skills and move into the workforce. In fact, it’s such a value that many participants sign up for the training even when they are not required to do so.

Does it work? You bet. We’ve had more than 25,000 people get jobs and they’re making an average of $12.68 an hour, well above minimum wage. And the average FSET participant is working 35 hours a week, 140 hours a month, well above the 80 hour requirement.

Wisconsin has been a proud leader in welfare reform, and these proposals are simple, common sense reforms that help move people from dependence to independence by investing in work readiness, while keeping a strong focus on accountability. Vinehout may believe they “fly in the face of common sense” but the generous people of Wisconsin are rooting for people in need to use these tools, training and treatment as a  trampoline to leap forward into a better future.

Heather Smith, Wisconsin Medicaid Director

Categories: Health, Op-Ed, Politics

9 thoughts on “Op Ed: Gov. Walker’s Common Sense Welfare Reforms”

  1. Matt says:

    Sorry. You need to look up common sense. Something no other state does is not “common sense”. You should maybe argue that you guys are special geniuses to see what no one else sees (or acknowledge that you are delusional). But to try and pass off the radical as some sort of normal development is not merely disingenious, it is also revealing. And stupid.

    Try try again.

  2. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Hey, what about corporate welfare? Seems you would prefer to see poor people starving while handing over tax dollars to Fox con and Walkers campaign donors.


  3. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Punishing the poor, dog whistle racism red meat for base of conservative racists, while the vast majority of welfare goes to wealthy corporations, the wealthy, and campaign donors for pay to 0lay politics.

    You are fooling nobody Walker stooge.

  4. Terry says:

    More lies upon lies from the far right-wing fascist enabling Republicans. If they mean what they say why don’t Republicans pee in a cup o prove it? Career Politician Scott Walker has been in office, since he was 22 years old! His entire life he has been subsidized by taxpayers, by We the People! Scott Walker has been mooching off the Big Government for decades! Walker gets his Big Governmemt salary and lavish benefits. He gets his fancy public housing and great healthcare all paid for by you and me. What do we get? Our voting rights stolen, Republican Dark Money corruption in our political arena, a nightmare 4.5 Billion dollar FoxCON corporate welfare fiasco, environment trashed, school funding cuts, roads and infrastructure deteriorating while DOT debt grows into the billions, poverty rates are at 30 year highs in Wisconsin while low wage no benefits crap “jobs” abound etc etc.
    Career Politician Scott Walker has never worked a single day in his entire adult life in the private sector or “free market” yet he blames and scapegoats the working poor and disenfranchised powerless people for EVERYTHING!
    Career Politician Scott Walker and Republicans are by far the biggest Big Governmemnt moochers in the state, thus shouldn’t he and every other Republican that support expanding government and raising taxes to drug test the poor and disenfranchised for food be forced to do the same? For all we know they could all be drunks or on drugs! I don’t want to be subsidizing a bunch of lazy Republican moochers who might be drunk or on drugs! If Republicans don’t agree…

    Well what do they have to hide?

    Dump Walker 2018
    Dump ALL Republicans 2018

  5. WashCoRepub says:

    Governor Walker knows that true compassion means giving people the tools and help they need to become self-sufficient. Staying off mind-altering drugs and providing for one’s family builds wealth over time, and builds families up generationally. These are bold, forward-looking policies that help so many become independent, contributing members of society.

  6. Larraine McNamara McGraw says:

    Note the code expression “truly needy.” The Fox Con billions are not going to the “ truly needy “ are they? The Fox Con may well bankrupt our state and drive us 50th place in terms of environmental health.
    And the jobs? Who needs big flat screen LCD TVs except sports bars? Young people today use their devices. The Fox conners are getting billions without peeing in a cup, and they are not the “ truly needy,”
    unless “ truly needy” is defined as kleptocracy. And the jobs out of this will not have been worth the harm being done.
    Ms Smith’s suggestion that our state’s draconian treatment of the poor somehow reflects the “generous people of Wisconsin” is facetious. A lie. Hopefully, the good people of Wisconsin will be motivated to vote. Hopefully they turn out Walker and his white supremacist sidekicks. Only then will Wisconsin return to being a generous place where everyone is respected, corruption is minimized, and the poor are not scapegoated.

  7. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Republicans call corporate welfare investment it’s a way for them to rewrite the reality of what it actually is.

    They’re gladly give away your tax dollars to a rich corporation or wealthy person than really help a poor person, rather them using them as red meat for their white supremacist base.

  8. will says:

    The right wing nuts are truly walking dinosaurs and will be extinct and we will write the true history of these greedy lying unamerican parasites. Walker of all people should be put to work for once in his narcissistic life.

  9. Jack says:

    The author of this opinion piece states:

    “Even a cursory glance at the legislation reveals these claims to be obviously, patently false.”

    A person on the ball would have included a link to the language of the legislation that “reveals these claims to be obviously, patently false”. A slam dunk opportunity if there ever was one. But as it stands, it’s one person’s claim against another’s, and the reader is left wondering who is telling the truth.

    If you’re going to make a claim that someone is making false claims, at least have the good sense to prove it!

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