By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-controlled state Assembly approved on Thursday a welfare overhaul package championed by Gov. Scott Walker as part of his re-election year agenda meant to give Wisconsin one of the toughest work requirements for food-stamp recipients in the country.
Democrats and others have blasted the bills, which call for increasing work requirements for food-stamp recipients, as being nothing more than election-year gimmicks. They said the package would harm those who Republicans profess to be helping move out of poverty.
The measures now head to the Senate, where they are expected to pass as soon as next week.
Walker and Republican lawmakers say the bills, including a new photo ID requirement for food-stamp recipients, are a way to combat fraud and give people the training and experience they need to get a job that will allow them to leave public assistance.
“We need more workers,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, citing the state’s 3 percent unemployment, which is the lowest rate seen since 1999. “We need every single person to help fill the gap with our record low unemployment.”
Democratic Rep. Lisa Subeck said the true motive was not getting people to work but really to score points with conservative voters in an election year.
“It is outrageous the Republicans are putting their own re-elections ahead of the needs of hardworking people of our state,” she said.
If Republicans really wanted to help poor people, they would be increasing access to transportation, health care, child care and worker training and ensuring that jobs pay a living wage, Subeck said.
Democrats remained mostly silent during the debate, leaving Republicans to tout most of the measures without opposition. Vos said that was because Democrats know that cracking down on welfare fraud and instituting work requirements to get benefits is popular with voters.
Wisconsin already has a requirement that able-bodied adults receiving food stamps work or receive worker training at least 20 hours a week. The Assembly voted to increase that to 30 hours per week — the maximum allowed under federal law. The current requirement has led to about 25,000 able-bodied food stamp participants finding work and more than 80,000 cases of members who lost their benefits through December.
The Assembly also approved a 30-hour work requirement for parents with children between the ages of 6 and 18. That would begin in October 2019 and require federal approval.
Other bills approved Thursday would:
- Require drug screening, testing and treatment to be eligible for public housing. Walker has already asked President Donald Trump’s administration for approval to drug test recipients of Medicaid and food stamps.
- Require photo IDs to participate in the food-stamp program, which needs federal approval. Only Massachusetts and Missouri have such a requirement currently. Critics say this would be cumbersome to administer and wouldn’t help anyone get a job, while supporters say it would cut down on fraud.
- Prohibit participation in Medicaid by any able-bodied adults who refused to cooperate with the paternity determination of a child, establish or enforce any child support order or obtain other payments a child has a right to receive.
- Forbid anyone from receiving food stamps and other Medicaid benefits if he owns a home worth double the median value — or about $321,000 — or own a vehicle worth more than $20,000. Supporters said the proposal was needed to crack down on people living in expensive homes who are taking advantage of the system and receiving public aid.
All of the bills were passed without any Democratic support.