The Leaflet: Welfare Reform Works

Published March 1, 2018

Wisconsin continues to be a national innovator when it comes to welfare reform. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will soon add his signature to a host of nine bills that build on previous reforms aimed at helping to move more Wisconsinites from government dependency to self-sufficiency.

The “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” reform initiative, which has been spearheaded by Walker since he first announced the plan more than a year ago, mimics similar reforms passed by former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R). Throughout Thompson’s tenure (1987–2001), 800,000 net jobs were created in Wisconsin, and there was a 93 percent reduction in the state’s welfare rolls. Thompson’s reforms were so successful that they were later used by President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans in their revamp of welfare at the national level.

One of the changes the bills would institute is an adjustment to the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. If approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the state would require able-bodied food stamp recipients to work or be enrolled in a job training program for at least 30 hours per week, an increase of 10 hours per week compared to current law.

In a USDA press release, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue voiced his support for SNAP innovation to promote work and self-sufficiency. “Long-term dependency has never been part of the American dream. USDA’s goal is to move individuals and families from SNAP back to the workforce as the best long-term solution to poverty. Everyone who receives SNAP deserves an opportunity to become self-sufficient and build a productive, independent life.”

Another key part of the is Medicaid reform. The state submitted a Section 1115 demonstration waiver in June 2017 to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. If approved by the federal government, the waiver would lead to the creation of monthly premiums and copayments for emergency department visits, subject recipients to drug screenings and offer treatment to those who test positive, and limit benefits to 48 months for those not meeting the state’s work requirements.

The Heartland Institute endorses many of the Badger State’s reform measures and has been encouraging Wisconsin to make additional changes for years. In January, John Nothdurft, director of government relations, testified in support of the reform bills in a Wisconsin joint committee hearing. Heartland President Tim Huelskamp cited Heartland’s assistance in moving these bills forward in a recent press release: “Congratulations to Gov. Walker and the Republican legislature for passing these long-overdue welfare reforms. The Heartland Institute was pleased to assist in their development and plans to promote the adoption of these in the other 49 states.”

Wisconsin has long been a leader in welfare reform. In 2015, Wisconsin was given an “A” grade in Heartland’s Welfare Reform Report Card, and the additional changes offered as part of the Wisconsin Works for Everyone plan would help it remain one of the most innovative and reform-minded states in the country.

In the Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues booklet, experts at The Heartland Institute provide lawmakers interested in fixing their welfare programs with several key policy reforms that have been proven to improve state budgets and help people break the government-created cycle of dependency and poverty. Solutions include work requirements, consolidating redundant agencies, eliminating fraud and abuse, and applying for 1115 demonstration waivers to give states flexibility in administering Medicaid.


What We’re Working On

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Energy & Environment
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Health Care
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Budget & Tax
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