By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker signed nine bills into law on Tuesday placing new limits on the state’s welfare programs, including increasing work requirements for food-stamp recipients and imposing those same requirements on parents for the first time.
The Legislature passed the bills in February despite Democrats’ united opposition to them. Walker, a Republican up for re-election in November, deemed the new laws the latest examples of how Wisconsin is changing its state welfare system to put more people back to work.
“We want to help those in need move from government dependence to true independence through the dignity of work,” Walker said in a statement. “We believe welfare should be more like a trampoline and less like a hammock.”
Walker has argued the changes will help reduce the state’s worker shortage. Although Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is at a record low of 2.9 percent, companies throughout the state are struggling to find workers to fill openings.
Walker said the new laws will provide needed training and assistance to help people re-enter the workforce and be independent. He signed the bills at separate stops throughout the state: a job center in Wausau, a grocery store in River Falls and a homeless shelter in Milwaukee.
Democrats who didn’t have the votes to stop the proposals argued they would make it harder for poor people to get food and rise out of poverty.
“While Gov. Walker spends millions of taxpayer dollars making it harder for working families to put food on the table, Wisconsin communities continue to struggle with crumbling roads, school funding cuts and economic uncertainty,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling tweeted on Tuesday.
All but one of Walker’s welfare proposals passed the Legislature. The Senate did not approve of a bill that would have required a photo ID benefit card in order to obtain food stamps.
The bills Walker was signing would:
- Increase from 20 to 30 hours a week the time that able-bodied adults, and now parents of school-aged children, have to be working or be in job training to receive food stamps under Wisconsin’s Food Share program.
- Require drug screening, testing and treatment to qualify for public housing.
- Prohibit anyone from receiving food stamps and other Medicaid benefits under the Welfare to Work, or W-2 program, if they own a home worth double the median value of homes — which is about $321,000.
- Block anyone owning a vehicle worth more than $20,000 from getting food stamps.
- Require “able-bodied” Medicaid enrollees to pay child support and participate in child-paternity testing or face losing benefits.
- Require state contracts with private groups that help run the food stamps and W-2 welfare programs to have pay-for-performance standards.
- Request a federal waiver to set up health savings accounts for Medicaid recipients.
- Establish a test program for periodic payments of the earned-income tax credit. Supporters say that will get the money into recipients’ hands quicker, in smaller amounts, and help them budget better. But opponents say there may be good reason for recipients to want the money in a lump sum.