Research & Commentary: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Welfare Proposal

Published February 8, 2017

On January 23, 2017, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) proposed reforms to the state’s welfare programs intended to empower citizens to move from government dependency to self-sufficiency.

Walker’s proposal, titled “Wisconsin Works for Everyone,” is a welfare reform package that builds on the reforms passed in 1996 under former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R). Walker stated upon the proposal’s release, “We introduced our ‘Wisconsin Works for Everyone’ welfare reform package, which invests in job and skills training for our unemployed and underemployed, reduces barriers to work and increased earnings, and expands programs that incentivize employment.”

Current welfare regulations require only childless adults in the FoodShare program to meet work requirements, and those who are noncompliant will lose benefits only after three months of failing to meet their obligations. Under these regulations, 21,000 food stamp recipients have found work and about 64,000 have lost their benefits. Walker’s proposal would only impose a “partial” reduction in benefits for recipients.

Under Walker’s plan, a set of work requirements would be created to help move recipients toward self-sufficiency. For instance, to be eligible for food stamps, the proposal would require parents to work more than 80 hours per month, and those with children ages 6 to 18 would attend job training and search for work five days per week. Similar requirements would be applied to those receiving housing.

Policies that put people back to work rather than compel them to rely on the government to maintain financial stability are precisely the welfare policies all states should adopt. The Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce praised the idea, saying the incentives will put more people back to work.

Opponents say these policies will be counterproductive and hurt families. State Senate Minority Leader Jen Shilling (D-La Crosse) said the proposal is “another example of Walker setting a double standard, making it hard for poor families to get benefits while the state hands out millions of dollars in tax breaks to wealthy corporations with no strings attached,” but such a position has no merit. Welfare reform has proven repeatedly to move people out of poverty, while welfare programs that do nothing to incentivize people to improve their lives through work and self-sufficiency trap people in poverty, often for generations.

Walker says he hopes to work closely with the Trump administration and Congress to further reform welfare programs in his state.

If passed, welfare reform could be the jumpstart Wisconsin needs, one that will surely promote economic opportunity for everyone and help move more people from government dependency to self-sufficiency.

The following documents provide additional information on welfare reform.

Welfare Reform Report Card: A State-by-State Analysis of Anti-Poverty Performance and Welfare Reform Policies
In 2015, The Heartland Institute published an updated version of its Welfare Reform Report Card. This report card compiles extensive data on five “inputs” and five “outputs” of state welfare and anti-poverty programs and assigns a final grade to each state for its welfare policies.

Welfare Reform after Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis
In 2008, The Heartland Institute published Welfare Reform after Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis, which reports the welfare policy choices of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report ranks the states by how aggressively they implemented effective policies. This data provide policymakers with a roadmap to successful anti-poverty efforts.

Walker Proposes New Welfare Work Requirements in Wisconsin  
In an article written for the Chicago Tribune, the Tribune News Service reports Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) new welfare proposal could require adults with children ages 6 to 18 to attend job training and search for work five days a week.

Gov. Walker Announces New Welfare Reform Plan  
In this article by Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, the author evaluates Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” initiative. According to Healy, the program would likely make it easier for those on welfare to re-enter the workforce.

Implementing Welfare Reform: A State Report Card
Writing for the Cato Institute in 2004, Jenifer Zeigler analyzes state welfare reform implementation and identifies reform policies that were most effective at encouraging personal responsibility and self-sufficiency.

Kansas Lawmakers Approve Welfare-to-Work Reforms  

Michael Bates writes in this Budget & Tax News article about a new bill in Kansas that would make reforms to the state’s welfare entitlement program. “If approved by the House and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback (R), Senate Bill 372 will enact reforms discouraging long-term dependence and welfare fraud and will encourage welfare recipients to seek employment,” wrote Bates.

Research and Commentary: Missouri Welfare Reform–commentary-missouri-welfare-reform  
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, implemented in 1996, granted states the flexibility needed to reform their welfare systems. In Missouri, state Sen. David Sater (R-Cassville) has proposed a welfare reform bill reducing welfare dependency and rewarding work by strengthening welfare work requirements and removing barriers to self-sufficiency.

Welfare Rules Database  
The Urban Institute’s Welfare Rules Database website provides a “comprehensive, sophisticated resource for comparing cash assistance programs between states” and allows researchers to examine changes in cash-assistance rules between states.


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