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Walker's Welfare Limits Could Cost $90 Million to Implement

Gov. Scott Walker's administration estimates that implementing his proposed limits on welfare could cost state and federal taxpayers nearly $90 milliona year, plus millions more in startup expenses.

By Jason Stein

Gov. Scott Walker's administration estimates that implementing his proposed limits on welfare could cost state and federal taxpayers nearly $90 milliona year, plus millions more in startup expenses.

Walker and GOP lawmakers have said that the bills will shift more welfare recipients into the workforce at a time when unemployment is at the historic low of 3%. Critics say the bills will be costly to implement and less effective than using the money for programs like training for workers or public transportation to get them to jobs.

"The governor thinks that going after struggling families is the best way to fire up his base ahead of a tough 2018 election," state Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) said in a statement. "Instead of wasting (millions in) taxpayer money on an election-year gimmick, Governor Walker and Republicans ought to finally start addressing the real struggles of hardworking Wisconsin families."

State Health Services spokesman Julie Lund responded by pointing to the cases in which workers got jobs through new requirements that Walker has placed on welfare recipients. "This is an administration that has taken an aggressive approach to making sure people who want to work get the support they need to overcome any barrier," Lund said in an email.

Walker is pushing for a series of welfare bills, including requiring able-bodied parents of children on food stamps to work or get training to receive more than three months of benefits and increasing the existing work requirement for all able-bodied adults from 20 hours a week to 30.

This existing requirement -- proposed by Walker in 2013 and implemented in 2015 -- has led so far to about 3.5 recipients losing benefits for every one who secured a job through the program. It's not known whether the recipients who lost benefits found jobs later.

Lund pointed to a series of videos that her agency has produced highlighting success stories from the work requirement and training program. One video featured Charlotte Watts, an out-of-work certified nursing assistant who went through the program and transitioned to a registration job at the Beloit Health System.

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review of state agency cost estimates found the 10 welfare bills proposed by Walker would cost:

* $37.9 million a year for state and local taxpayers when fully implemented and $35.5 million for federal taxpayers, for a total of $87.5 million. These operating costs would cover a range of expenses, from additional state staff to the cost of mailing out Food Share cards with photos as an added security procedure.

* The Walker administration said it didn't have enough data to estimate "the potentially significant increases in costs" from a bill that would require able-bodied applicants to have a job and undergo drug testing to receive public housing.

* In addition, the bills would cost a total of $21.7 million in state and federal money for one-time costs such as computer upgrades. That figure doesn't include an up to $20 million fund that Walker has proposed to pay private welfare and corrections contractors for reaching big cost savings or improvements in performance.

In some cases, state taxpayers might get part of their money back in savings when people fall off the rolls of some welfare programs like Medicaid health coverage. Medicaid programs like nursing homes for the elderly and health benefits for needy families will cost about $20 billion in state and federal money over the two-year state budget.

But in other programs like food stamps, it would be difficult for state taxpayers to recoup the costs since the $887 million in Food Share benefits paid out to Wisconsin residents last year were covered by federal taxpayers.

(c)2018 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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