Wausau was the first stop of Governor Scott Walker’s three city tour today to sign nine bills into law aimed at reforming the state’s welfare system to help those in need get on their feet.
“I’ve said repeatedly that public assistance should be like a trampoline and less like a hammock,” said Walker, adding that with the state’s unemployment rate hovering near 3% that the state can’t afford to have anyone on the sideline. “What we are doing is getting people the skills and the education they need to not just have jobs but have careers to support themselves and their families.”
The battery of bills works to develop plans for those on housing assistance to get job skills training, requires child support compliance for those receiving Medicaid, and requires able-bodied adults to complete workforce training in order to be eligible for the FoodShare program. Another controversial aspect of the plan requires anyone receiving public assistance to pass a drug test, which Walker says is no different than applying for a job.
“It’s unbelievable. I’ll hear employers say once a week, sometimes once a day, that they have five open spots open but I need people with basic employability skills and who can pass a drug test. I’ll put out a notice, I’ll have people come in, and once they find out about the drug test a whole bunch just won’t even show up for the next step.”
State Assemblyman Patrick Snyder of Schofield says the drug test is not meant to single anyone out but instead to provide a nudge towards sobriety. “I can see how destructive drug addiction is. Parents will use their food share card to buy a minimum amount of food for their kids then sell the card so they can buy drugs. It hurts the kids, it hurts them.” Snyder went on to say the measure is not designed to be punitive, “we don’t want people to go hungry, but we also might need to nudge them to get to that treatment, to get them to come to the point where they say ‘I’ve come far enough I’ve got to change my life.’ It’s kind of like a tough love.”
Walker adds what sets the Wisconsin measure apart from other states is the rehab part of the plan. “Unlike other states who put in punitive requirements, we actually have rehab funding available. Our goal is to get people back up on their feet again and in the workforce no matter what their circumstances are.”