Food stamps linked to job seeking, training programs

Matt Pommer • Wisconsin Newspaper Association

As Others See It

In order to receive food-stamp public assistance, able-bodied adults across Wisconsin from age 18 to 49 who have no children will soon be facing work or jobtraining requirements.

Their food-stamp benefits will be limited to three months unless they work an average of 20 hours per week or spend 20 hours per week on any combination of working, job searching and training.

The work requirements were initially implemented last July in Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties, according to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The plan expanded to all counties this spring.

It will be felt as recipients initially apply for food stamps or when they renew their applications.

Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015- 2017 biennial state budget calls for spending $29.9 million on the program. That includes nearly $17 million in state funds with the remainder coming from the federal government.

Nearly 15 percent of those receiving food stamps in Wisconsin are in the affected group. The Fiscal Bureau estimates that 109,200 persons will be involved in the work and job training approach. That number is expected to jump to 144,014 able-bodied adults either working or undergoing training to get their food stamp benefits during the fiscal year that runs July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017.

Some will remember that Walker campaigned in 2011 promising to create 250,000 new jobs in his first four years in office. In recent years, the governor has noted that employers have been unable to find workers with the needed skills for hiring.

David Lee, executive director of the Feeding Wisconsin food pantry, has cautioned about expecting too much from the job training.

“The job training program may not train for the jobs that are available,” he said recently.

Some people will lose their benefits. Sherrie Tussler of the Hunger Task Force has suggested that 66,000 persons could lose their food stamp eligibility once the requirements are in full force. That will put a pinch on those non-profit agencies providing nutrition help.

“In April of 2016, we anticipate that we will experience a food shortage,” she predicted, as more people make use of food pantries in lieu of food stamps.

Writing in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Tussler said the work and job-training requirement has a questionable track record. She noted the program spent $19 million in 2011 to help 6,021 participants statewide when only 179 of them got jobs.

The program “has a perfectly awful rate of helping people get jobs and seems to waste a lot of money trying,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is pondering whether to place further limits on what type of food can be obtained with the food stamps. Some lawmakers also want to impose a requirement that grocery store checkout clerks examine photo IDs to limit any misuse of the cards.

The grocery industry is opposed to the idea. They would certainly slow down the checkout lines if the clerks are required to verify food stamp eligibility.

The food stamp provisions haven’t attracted as much budget attention as Gov. Walker’s proposal to selectively administer drug testing to Wisconsin residents who apply for food stamps or other assistance programs.

Walker’s plan would also open the door to urine tests of workers who are laid off and apply for unemployment compensation. The Legislature is taking up Walker’s ideas in separate legislation.

News accounts indicate Walker’s approaches to the poor and out-ofwork are getting enthusiastic audience responses in some circles as he seeks to become the next president of the United States.

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