- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Parents who work fewer than 80 hours a month could face food stamp benefit cuts under a proposal Gov. Scott Walker released Monday.

Walker’s proposal, which met with immediate backlash from Democrats who don’t have the votes to stop it, would also require adults with children between age 6 and 18 to attend job training and search for work five days a week. It was part of a package of welfare reforms called “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” that Walker released during a series of news conferences across the state.

Under current state law, only childless adults in the FoodShare program have to meet the work requirement. They lose all food stamp benefits after three months of non-compliance. Benefits would be cut, but not eliminated, for families that could be affected by the new proposal. Details on how much benefits could be reduced, and how long parents would have to comply, will come in the governor’s budget released next month.

Since the law requiring childless adults to work at least 80 hours a month took effect in April 2015, about 21,000 able-bodied food stamp recipients have found work and about 64,000 have lost their benefits.

Walker is also calling for a similar work requirement for people receiving housing vouchers from the federal government.

Democrats and child advocates blasted the move, saying it was counterproductive and would hurt more families than it would help. But Republican legislative leaders and the state chamber of commerce, which typically backs conservatives, praised the idea as giving incentives to put more people back to work.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who appeared with Walker in Madison and championed welfare reform in the 1990s, urged Democrats to get behind the effort like many did to his reforms 20 years ago.

“This could be a bipartisan opportunity to continue to change Wisconsin’s face for the better,” Thompson said.

But Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jen Shilling 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.”

Walker’s proposals could require law changes by Congress and waivers from President Donald Trump’s administration before taking effect. They would also have to pass the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Walker has been saying that he hopes to work closely with the Trump administration on a variety of initiatives, including welfare reform. Walker is expected to seek a third term in 2018 and will be spelling out his priorities for the next two years in the state budget he releases in February.

The new work requirement would start as a pilot program in several counties, Walker said. The goal would be to extend it statewide, but he didn’t have a timeline or estimate on how much it would cost.

Walker said he also wants to ease people off receiving child-care assistance from the state once they become employed and start earning more money. Once someone becomes employed and hits 200 percent of the poverty line, they would start contributing $1 copay for child care for every $3 they earn.

He also wants to expand programs to help people released from prison re-enter the workforce; create a tax credit to help young people aging out of foster care and those with disabilities who are working; and create a new tax credit for low-income parents who do not have custody of their children but are fulfilling their child support obligations.

Walker is also calling on the Trump administration to clear the way for the state to drug test some welfare recipients.

“All of these with the idea that we want to get people to work,” Walker said at a Milwaukee news conference. “We fundamentally believe that public assistance should be a trampoline not a hammock.”


Associated Press writer Ivan Moreno contributed to this report from Milwaukee.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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