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Walker welfare changes get approval by Wisconsin lawmakers (UPDATE)

SCOTT BAUER

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Changes to Wisconsin’s welfare programs proposed by Gov. Scott Walker that won approval by the Legislature’s budget-writing committee on Thursday include:

— Requiring able-bodied childless adults in the state’s main Medicaid program BadgerCare, as well as parents on food stamps, to be working or receiving job training for 80 hours per month. That is the same requirement already in place for childless adults who receive food stamps.

Since that change pertaining to food stamps took effect in April 2015, about 21,000 childless adults have found work and 64,000 have lost benefits.

The new requirement for parents on food stamps would be started as a pilot program in counties that have yet to be chosen. Only families with children between the ages of 6 and 18 would be affected.

Parents who fail to meet the work requirements would not face losing their benefits like childless adults do. Instead, the parents only, and not their children, would lose benefits for one month for the first offense, three months for the second offense and six months for a third and subsequent offense.

The budget committee voted to give itself oversight authority of the program should it win the approval it also needs from President Donald Trump’s administration. That approval is expected to be granted.

Of the various other changes that still require federal approval, but which would also be subject to legislative oversight, some would:

— Require all able-bodied, childless adults applying for BadgerCare health benefits to be screened for illegal drugs, including marijuana, which is not legal in Wisconsin even for medical purposes. Anyone who refuses a drug test would be ineligible for coverage until they have relented and agreed to take the test after all, whereas people who test positive would get treatment paid for by taxpayers through the Medicaid program. Those who refuse treatment would lose benefits for six months.

— Expand drug-test requirements for food-stamp recipients to the parents of children between the ages 6 and 18. A requirement that childless adults receiving food stamps be screened for drugs was passed in the previous state budget, but has yet to take effect because it still needs federal approval. Former President Barack Obama’s administration had warned Wisconsin when the requirement was passed two years ago that it was prohibited by federal law.

— Limit to four years the cumulative amount of time childless adults can be covered by Medicaid. Recipients who have reached the maximum would lose benefits for six months, but they could re-enroll after that. The change would apply to adults between the ages of 19 and 49 and not to people who work or participate in employment-training programs for at least 80 hours a month. It would also exclude full-time students and people with disabilities.

— Impose new monthly premiums on childless adults who participate in BadgerCare. The premiums would range from $1 to $10 and would be set in accordance with a recipient’s income.

— Require childless adults to complete an annual health-risk assessment, but failure to do it would not result in being kicked off the program.

— Require an $8 copayment for going to a hospital emergency room once in a 12-month period and $25 for each subsequent use in the same period.

— Require most parents without custody of their children to pay child support in order to receive food stamps. The proposal, affecting about 2,150 people, would reverse a change made in 2007.

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