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State Estimates 14,000 Milwaukeeans Could Lose Their Food Stamps

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LaToya Dennis
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Sherry Tussler of the Hunger Taskforce says Wisconsin's new FoodShare law will ensure more people go hungry

On April 1, Wisconsin will enact changes that impact some FoodShare recipients.

FoodShare, which used to be known as the food stamp program, helps people with low-incomes pay for groceries. Starting next month, the state will require able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 to put in 80 hours a month either at work or searching for a job. If not, they face losing their benefits.   

31-year-old mother, Kim Ulik, is like a lot of people in Wisconsin. She receives FoodShare benefits and wasn't aware of the upcoming changes.

She has a 10 year-old daughter, and up until the birth of her son three weeks ago, she received about $50 a month in assistance. Now she gets around $200, but says it’s still not enough.

“We run out like halfway through the month. And then we have to use what money we have from our job to buy food,"  she says. "We do our very best to buy the cheapest food we can and then [go to the food pantry] to get what we can."

Ulik says she picks up hours when she can as a waitress, but has not been able to find a full-time or even half-time position in years.

She may be considered one of the lucky ones, because Wisconsin will exempt people with dependents from its new work rules for FoodShare.

"What kind of town do we live in that has turned grown men into beggars? What kind of state do we live in that intentionally creates beggars?," Hunger Taskforce's Sheri Tussler asks.

Still, Ulik says that before Monday, she had not heard anyone mention the upcoming changes. Executive director of the Hunger Taskforce Sherry Tussler says the state isn’t doing much to inform people.

“There hasn’t been any kind of outreach planned. They haven’t told people about their responsibilities or their rights. And for us, that sounds like kicking some people when they’re down,” she says.

Tussler says Wisconsin's new motto should be "you will work for food."

“The FoodShare changes will ensure more people go hungry...," she says. "What kind of town do we live in that has turned grown men into beggars? What kind of state do we live in that intentionally creates beggars? It’s the dairy state."

In 2014, more than 800,000 people across Wisconsin used the FoodShare program. Tussler says the state estimates that well over 14,000 in Milwaukee will drop out of the federally-funded program once the state requires 80 hours of work or job-training. She wonders where they’ll turn.

“Is charity really supposed to shoulder the burden for feeding everybody here in Milwaukee? Can food pantry’s and soup kitchens operated by churches and volunteers be relied upon as the sole source of food for people when they get cut off for three years? When does the Hunger Taskforce reach the tipping point,” Tussler says.

The change to Foodshare requirements was a part of the 2013-2015 state budget.

"If we're going to provide that hand up, the least we can do is that for people that can work to require them to work," Rep. John Nygren says.

Back then, Republican Rep. John Nygren said the work requirement is about moving people from government dependency to being self-sufficient.

“If we’re going to provide that hand up, the least we can do is that for people that can work to require them to work. And you can call this mean and try to be divisive on this issue, but I would suggest to my friends that this is something that I believe the majority of Wisconsinites will support,” Nygren says.

This is the second major change Wisconsin has made to its FoodShare benefits in recent times. In 2014, lawmakers decided not to renew the state’s participation in a program known as Heat and Eat. Advocates of the elderly and disabled say many people have since experienced a substantial decrease in their food benefits.

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