Members of Congress from Wisconsin call on Gov. Walker to make changes to FoodShare program

MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin's congressional Democrats are calling on Gov. Scott Walker to reverse his decision and accept a federal food stamp waiver, saying it would restore aid to thousands.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Representatives Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan have sent a letter to Governor Scott Walker calling on him to immediately restore food assistance to thousands of Wisconsinites by requesting and reinstating the federal waiver for 20 counties and 10 cities with high unemployment rates.

According to these elected officials, recent reports have concluded that poverty in Wisconsin has reached alarming levels and the highest rates in years in many parts of the state.

Currently, 20 counties and 10 cities in Wisconsin have unemployment levels that would allow them to qualify for an exemption waiver to the food assistance restrictions for certain low-income Wisconsinites.

For over a decade, Wisconsin—along with many other states—has instituted a federal waiver to exempt vulnerable individuals in areas of high unemployment from these time limits on food assistance eligibility. But Governor Walker has now decided to remove this exemption and force many vulnerable Wisconsinites to lose access to the food they need.

In the letter to Governor Walker, these elected officials wrote:

“In the face of economic insecurity across Wisconsin, you have chosen to reject this exemption waiver option, putting thousands of vulnerable Wisconsinites at risk of losing access to critical food assistance. Instead of denying access to food, we urge you to reconsider your decision and reinstate Wisconsin’s long-held federal waiver to ensure continued food security for Wisconsinites struggling to get ahead in a struggling economy. The impact of your decision is being felt in very real ways by low-income individuals who are struggling to find employment. The economy is suffering and state job training programs are failing to keep their promise of moving people from dependence to independence.”

The Wisconsin members of Congress also questioned the effectiveness of the Walker Administration’s employment and training programs and asked Walker to continue working to fully implement all federal recommendations and corrective actions for the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program, writing:

“Our goal is helping people achieve economic security and independence, but the state’s employment and training programs are not working as promised to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, your Administration is failing to ensure people are fully aware of and participating in the FSET program, and recent reports show that only 10 percent of recipients who were referred to FSET have been successfully placed in jobs.  In addition, federal corrective actions have been placed on ResCare, a private vendor that is supported by taxpayer funding. ResCare operates FSET in Milwaukee County and six other counties and is the subject of civil rights violations and non-compliance with Wisconsin’s approved FSET plan.  We are deeply troubled by these reports and the fact that your plan relies on a state program that is not functioning as promised to Wisconsin taxpayers." 

According to these officials, reports indicate that over 30,000 Wisconsinites have been kicked off of the FoodShare program, including 16,560 in Milwaukee County, due to the decision to remove the waiver.

This has put a strain on Wisconsin food banks, which help those most in need avoid hunger and now face an increased demand that may jeopardize their food supply.

The Hunger Task Force, for example, already serves over 34,000 individuals each month in Milwaukee County. If these trends in FoodShare disenrollment continue, there could be a dramatic increase in the number people turning to Hunger Task Force for assistance.

In the letter to Governor Walker from Baldwin, Kind, Moore and Pocan, they said:

"The solution to these problems should not be to build barriers and make it harder for people to achieve economic independence. Rather, we must continue to support opportunities to lift people up and out of poverty and ensure that our jobs training programs are truly working.”

Walker responded, saying people who need help still have access to assistance through FoodShare. He defended the program's work requirement, which went into effect a year ago (April 1st, 2015), as a reasonable expectation for mentally and physically able adults who don't have children in their homes.

The Hunger Task Force has issued this statement:

On March 22, Senator Tammy Baldwin delivered a letter to Governor Scott Walker urging him to reinstate the federal waiver on FoodShare work training requirements. Hunger Task Force supports this request for the following reasons:

  • Mandating work does not result in employment – FoodShare Employment & Training (FSET) has mandated participation in an employability plan, in-person classes and work experience – none of which pay. ResCare, the for-profit organization that administers FSET, has required work but not placed people in work.

  • Mandating work does not create jobs – The core problem confronting Milwaukee is a lack of jobs, especially – jobs that lift people out of dependence on FoodShare.

  • ResCare is getting rich at the expense of taxpayers and the poor – Over $55 million in State funds and almost $61 million in federal dollars are allocated to be spent on the state’s FSET program over the next two years.

  • Welfare reform is increasing hunger in the Dairy State – An unforeseen impact of FSET case closures is an increased demand for emergency food from soup kitchens and food pantries. While the number of people on FoodShare is decreasing and unemployment figures are lower, demand for emergency food is increasing.

“People in Milwaukee are hurting needlessly. Hunger Task Force calls out to the Governor to visit Milwaukee, the second poorest city in the U.S., in order to understand how his well-intentioned programs have failed to help people. No one should be punished by hunger,” said Sherrie Tussler, Executive Director of Hunger Task Force.

CLICK HERE to read the letter to Governor Walker.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Wisconsin's FoodShare program.