On Monday, as part of the rollout of his state budget, Governor Walker introduced a wide-ranging array of proposed reforms to important assistance programs that help hundreds of thousands of our friends and neighbors living in Wisconsin to have the resources and skills they need to move toward opportunity.
While some of the proposals are encouraging, such as phasing out childcare assistance - as opposed to elimination - for families earning just above 200% of the Federal Poverty Line, one proposal to require families with children to work 20 hours a week as a condition to receive FoodShare benefits, is a bit more concerning.
We believe that for those who can work, a good paying job is the best tool in the fight against hunger and FoodShare is an important work support that ensures Wisconsin families have the food and energy they need to be ready for work.
Therefore, we broadly share the Governor's goal to fight hunger through improving employment. However, given the geographic distribution of the available jobs in Wisconsin and where job training programs are located, many of the people participating in the FoodShare program can experience significant barriers to take advantage of these opportunities, such as lack of transportation or access to high-quality, dependable, affordable childcare.
Access to childcare is particularly salient since of the FoodShare households with minors, 66% consist of single parent households. With not other parental unit, jobs that may require long travel times or jobs are outside of first shift can be out of reach for many single parents whose main focus may be childcare.
In 2015, Wisconsin implemented a requirement for single adults without children to work 20 hours a week as a condition to receive FoodShare. The consequences for non-compliance are particularly harsh: sanctioned individuals are limited to FoodShare benefits for three months, every three years.
While the proposed sanctions for non-compliance by adults with children would only reduce the FoodShare benefit for the adult in the family, it is important to note that since food is purchased for the whole family rather than for individual family members, this is the same as reducing the overall FoodShare benefit for the entire family.
Rather than implementing an overly broad, one-size fits all work requirement that does not take into consideration and laser target the needs of hard working families trying to play by the rules, we would support fine-tuning existing programs and current law to better assess, understand and address the barriers that FoodShare participants face in getting available jobs or enrolling in job training programs.
By better understanding the challenges and barriers to employment, we can better tailor these programs to meet the needs of families trying to work through a tough patch in their lives. This would help us be better stewards of taxpayer dollars and ensure that all families have the opportunities and the food they need to work, learn, and participate in building thriving communities.