Bills of Note: Welfare Special Session

The Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations and the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform held a joint hearing on Jan. 31 on 10 bills as part of the Special Session on Welfare Reform called by Gov. Scott Walker earlier this month. The committees heard first from the bills’ authors, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum), and Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), who took questions for the first few hours of the hearing. Following the authors, the Department of Health Services (DHS), Department of Children and Families (DCF), and Department of Workforce Development (DWD) all testified in support of the bills. Committee members then heard testimony from the public as the hearing went on into the evening.

Democrats on the committee and opponents of the bills said the bills could decrease access and make getting public assistance more difficult. Proponents said the legislation encourages people to return to the workforce and move off of government assistance.

 Committees have not yet scheduled votes on the bills. The bills also need the approval of the Joint Finance Committee before moving forward in the legislature. Below is a summary of the bill package:

  • Special Session Bill 1 would increase FoodShare employment and training (FSET) program work requirements from 20 to 30 hours.
  • Special Session Bill 2 would include able-bodied adults with children age six or over in FSET work requirements.
  • Special Session Bill 3 would establish an asset limit of 200 percent of the statewide median home value for Wisconsin Works, Wisconsin Shares, and FoodShare. The bill would also establish a $20,000 limit on the value of non-work-related vehicles for Wisconsin Shares and FoodShare. The bill includes an exemption for agricultural land.
  • Special Session Bill 4 would require drug testing as a condition of eligibility for public housing and would require able-bodied public housing residents to participate in an employability plan.
  • Special Session Bill 5 would establish a pilot program under which 100 Earned Income Tax Credit claimants would receive advance monthly payments throughout the year, rather than one annual payment. The program would last two years and is subject to IRS approval. The bill directs the Department of Revenue to study a control group of non-pilot program claimants to determine the success of the program.
  • Special Session Bill 6 would implement performance-based payment systems for Wisconsin Works and FSET program contractors.
  • Special Session Bill 7 would authorize the Department of Administration to set up with a private service provider a “pay for success trust fund” of up to $20 million for payments for social, employment, or correctional services. DHS, Department of Corrections, DCF, and DWD would also be instructed to study their programs to see if a success trust fund would be an effective alternative to their current funding models.
  • Special Session Bill 8 would require child support compliance for participation in Medicaid.
  • Special Session Bill 9 would require DHS to build upon its current 1115 waiver application and request a waiver to allow the creation of health savings accounts for Medicaid participants.
  • Special Session Bill 10 would require DHS to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval to issue electronic benefit photo identification cards for FoodShare recipients.