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GOP legislation could create stricter work requirements for people in need of welfare benefits

State capital building in Madison, Wisconsin
Alex Prisacari
Stock Adobe
State capital building in Madison, Wisconsin

In Wisconsin’s April General Election, voters were asked to weigh in on whether or not there should be work requirements to access welfare benefits in the state. For some, the question was confounding, since most welfare programs in Wisconsin already had work requirements. Now, politicians in Wisconsin and in Congress are weighing bills that could drastically change eligibility for welfare programs, including those that give low-wage workers’ access to food and healthcare.

Philip Roccois an associate professor of political science at Marquette University who has been following these bills and comments on the nuances surrounding them.

He explains how the proposed referendum on the ballots neglected to distinguish the types of welfare programs. The three major programs that offer assistance to Wisconsin residents are theTemporary Assistance for Needy Families(TANF) program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food share/stamps and the Medicaidprogram, which in Wisconsin is called Badger Care. The TNAF and SNAP programs already had pre-existing work requirements not addressed in the voting referendum. The proposed additional work requirements create and reinforce a misleading notion concerning the benefit programs.

Phillip Roco, Marquette University
Marquette University
Phillip Roco, Marquette University

"One in eight nonelderly adults in Wisconsin is covered by Badger Care, three in eight people with disabilities. Three in 10 children of the nonelderly adults, people between the ages of 19 through 64 who are on badger care, who [of them] can work? 75% of them are working. So, this image that these programs one don't already have work requirements in them is not necessarily true," says Rocco.

The updated work requirements would demand Wisconsinites to work to receive Medicaid. This differs from previous requirements and could be especially problematic for Wisconsinites who are sick or otherwise unable to work and are not offered benefits through their employer.

"When we look at studies of what happens when work requirements are introduced in programs because most people who are eligible for these programs are already working, they're just simply working low-income, low-wage jobs. These sorts of programs don't really increase employment participation very much at all," Rocco says.

Rocco says there is a political and bipartisan undercurrent to these proposals where state Republicans are advertising the illegitimacy of people on these programs and as they're "getting one over on everybody else."

He says, "But the reality is, given the structure of the American labor market and the fact that wages are so low for so many jobs — that you can be working a full-time job, really exhausting job and not be making that much money. The reality is kicking people off of these programs means kicking people off these programs who are engaged in work and actually worsening their quality of life and their health."

Wisconsinites can find information and apply for benefit programs at any time trough the Access Wisconsin website.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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