The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin agrees with Gov. Walker that employment in jobs that pay a living wage is the most effective means for families to move out of poverty and become vital, contributing members of society. However, the majority of people in Wisconsin who continue to receive FoodShare and other government benefits are people who already face substantial barriers to improved employment: Many have disabilities that limit their options; they may be single mothers with children and inadequate access to good child care; they may have chronic or acute health concerns that require frequent — perhaps daily — treatment regimens; they may lack access to good transportation to travel to work or to day care or to medical appointments; they may lack modern skills to meet employers’ technical requirements; or they may live in constant fear of domestic violence and sabotage of their employment prospects.
Increasing bureaucratic compliance requirements is not the most humane, and certainly not the most efficient, way to help people train for and compete successfully for good jobs.
While some of the governor's "welfare reform" bills propose changes to our existing systems that may help a small percentage of low-income individuals, they largely do not provide the types of assistance that would result in meaningful change. Unfortunately, these proposals are mostly about increasing the barriers faced by struggling families, which we know will simply result in fewer resources for the families involved. And this misguided effort will cost Wisconsin taxpayers $90 million. Imagine how that money could be used to benefit Wisconsin workers!
Instead of increasing barriers to accessing assistance, the league encourages the Legislature to develop proposals that will: help families with their transportation problems; provide good, neighborhood child care that is available at the times needed due to the erratic schedules employees are now required to work; ensure that people receive needed medical care; expand training opportunities for the modern job market; and provide that available jobs pay a family-sustaining wage.
Unemployment in Wisconsin is approaching historically low levels. Employers and the government will have to work together to expand the labor force to meet the increasing demand for skilled employees. This cannot be done by making it harder for low-wage workers to access supplements to their low wages. It can only be done by expanding the opportunities for families to participate in the modern labor market. We encourage the Legislature to take a new look at how to make it possible for more people to meaningfully participate in building Wisconsin’s economy.
As they stand, these proposals will not help the state move forward, and we urge lawmakers to reject them.
Ingrid Rothe is on the Legislative Committee for the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government.
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