March 20, 2011

Cuts for Wisconsin Works (W-2)

Posted in Beyond Health, Budget Updates, Education, Programs, State, Wisconsin tagged at 10:47 pm by Hope

Reducing Income Support

The Governor’s budget proposes lowering the already meager maximum monthly income support from $673 to $653.  This is the maximum amount of cash assistance available to Wisconsin Works participants, regardless of family size. For some Wisconsin families, this support is their only source of cash income, yet at just $7,836 a year, it would not raise a family of three to even 50% of the poverty line.  Even with a generous estimate of food stamp benefits, families remain below 75% of the federal poverty line (using 2008 estimates).

W-2 participants that will be affected include at-risk pregnant women and mothers of infants who are unable to work, as well as parents who are unable to find employment and are serving in a community service positions up to 40 hours a week.  Walker’s proposed reduction in monthly income support represents an attempt to balance the budget on the backs on Wisconsin’s neediest families.

Limiting Training and Education

The budget also lowers the limit on the amount of time a participant may spend in educational or training activities to 10 hours a week for participants in community-service placements and 12 hours a week for participants in transitional placements (these placements are described in the next paragraph).  While Wisconsin Works agencies and case workers previously had discretion to allow clients to complete the educational or training activities needed to help the participant get the skills necessary for him or her to successfully find a job, Walker’s budget limits this discretion.  Because an adult may only receive Wisconsin Works benefits for a maximum of 60 months in his or her lifetime, getting the education and training necessary to secure consistent work that pays a living wage is imperative for Wisconsin Works participants.  This restriction on training and education programs limits the ability of case workers to help their clients secure the skills necessary for future success.

The budget also limits the length of time an individual may participate in a trial job, community service, or transitional placement.  Currently, Wisconsin Works participants who are able to work are placed in a trial job, community service job, or transitional placement.  In trial jobs, participants’ wages are subsidized as they gain work experience with an employer who makes efforts to retain the participant as a permanent, unsubsidized worker once the trial period is over.  Community service jobs provide work experience through public service projects designated by DCF. Transitional placements include things like alcohol and other drug abuse treatment, mental health therapy and management, and physical rehabilitation activities.  This budget limits the time a participant may spend in a trial job to 3 months and a trial job placement to 24 months; limits a community service job to six months and a community service job placement to 24 months; and limits a transitional placement to 24 months.  These time limits are in addition to the 60 month lifelong limit on Wisconsin Works assistance.  These time limits reduce the tools case workers have for allowing clients to get work experience and prepare themselves for the labor market.  Given the current tight labor market, private-sector jobs are difficult to obtain, and trial jobs and community service placements may be the only option for many Wisconsin Works participants.

More Information

Walker’s Budget Proposal

Legislative Reference Bureau Overview

Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s Informational Paper on Wisconsin Works

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