Entitlement Reform Would Give Wisconsinites a Real Helping Hand

Published April 5, 2018

A package of bills approved by the Wisconsin Senate that are currently awaiting Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) signature, would increase opportunity and reduce dependency in the Badger State, making work more worthwhile for everyone.

The package of nine bills, known as the Wisconsin Works for Everyone plank of Walker’s Ambitious Agenda for 2018, would increase the number of hours able-bodied adults must work or participate in job training from 20 hours to 30 hours per week, prohibit individuals owning a home worth more than $321,000 from receiving food stamps or Medicaid benefits, and make other changes to the state’s entitlement system.

Contrary to the beliefs held by many on the left, a government assistance program’s effectiveness is not best measured by the number of people who can be signed up for the program. Instead, entitlement programs should be measured by how many people no longer need the help of others and can therefore be removed from the rolls. Enrolling more people and keeping them on welfare incentivizes dependency, keeping families in neutral gear when they could be driving ahead.

Instead of seeking to enroll more people and expand entitlement programs using other people’s money—done in the name of “charity”—legislators and elected officials should work to implement pro-growth policies that benefit everyone, including cutting taxes on employers and employees alike and reducing businesses’ regulatory burden.

Fortunately, Walker’s reforms that have already passed have done just that.

In 2011, 816,215 individuals were enrolled in the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ FoodShare program, the state’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called “food stamps.” In 2017, the last full year for which data is available, 681,995 individuals were enrolled in FoodShare, a 16.4 percent reduction over a six-year period. Additionally, unemployment rates have cratered in Wisconsin, as an increasing number of people have returned to work, once again becoming able to support themselves and their families without taxpayer assistance.

In January 2011, Wisconsin’s statewide unemployment rate was 8 percent. In December 2017, that rate was an astounding 3.2 percent.

Proponents of massive government entitlement programs say they are too important to reform, but data show the “war on poverty” has been an absolute failure since President Lyndon Johnson and Democrats in Congress first ushered in their far-reaching welfare policies. After more than fifty years and $22 trillion—roughly 146 times the amount the government spent to send astronauts to the moon in Apollo 11, after adjusting for inflation—poverty stubbornly refuses to go away. It’s almost as if just throwing more money at a problem doesn’t solve it.

This is precisely why welfare reforms such as those being instituted in Wisconsin are so important. Growing entitlement programs doesn’t work, but setting people up for success and preparing the field to allow people to pursue their dreams does help lift people out of poverty and improves life for all Americans.

Lawmakers in other states should look at what’s working in Wisconsin and replicate those winning strategies in their states and local communities. By removing the hammock of entitlements and welfare and turning the system into a trampoline that’s capable of sending everyone skyward, the war on poverty can finally be won.