Dane County officials say the state has quietly put in motion a plan to privatize its W-2 program that will cut assistance to the jobless and destabilize coordinated services such as those at the county's Job Center.
"With the economy the way it is, we need these services more than ever, and we can't afford to take apart a system that works," County Executive Joe Parisi said Wednesday. "The speed at which they are doing this and the fact that it is flying under the radar causes me concern."
The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families has set a June 11 deadline for proposals from counties and private businesses that want to administer the W-2 "welfare to work" program. Spending would drop 18 percent to $51 million in 2013 from $62 million for 2011.
A department spokeswoman said the program will be revamped to control costs, standardize services across the state and create an accountability system that rewards providers who demonstrate efficiency.
"The agencies now are just getting paid to breathe air," said communications director Sara Buschman. "This is about connecting people to jobs."
Current funding practices encourage counties to reduce caseloads without cutting staff, and that will change under new four-year contracts to be awarded, according to material supplied to potential bidders.
The W-2 program was a national pioneer when it began in 1997, requiring welfare recipients to work or receive job training.
It is administered by 20 counties and 11 multi-county agencies outside Milwaukee County. Under contracts now up for bid, the state would be divided into six administrative districts outside Milwaukee County.
Dane County adds about $500,000 in local funds to $4 million in W-2 funds from the state, and it coordinates benefits with other services to the needy at the county's Job Center, said Lynn Green, county director of human services. Green said the new state funding model is a drastic change designed to attract private business operators.