Gov. Scott Walker Thursday pushed the Legislature to approve a slew of welfare bills that would add work requirements for food stamps, require able-bodied adults to comply with child support orders to receive Medicaid and impose drug screening for public housing.
Dems immediately slammed Walker’s call for a special session as a knee-jerk reaction to Tuesday’s GOP loss in the 10th SD and an attempt to fire up the GOP base.
But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who helped author the package, rejected the suggestion in a statement issued through his office.
“Initiatives like welfare reform take months to plan and don’t happen overnight. Only people who are trying to play 24-hour politics would think this is reactionary,” said Vos, who was traveling with the guv and GOP state Sen. Chris Kapenga to promote the package.
Kapenga said he’s been working on the package of bills for 18 months and talked to almost all of his fellow Senate Republicans about the bills. Still, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald was noncommittal about the package.
“Sen. Fitzgerald is looking forward to reviewing the special session bills with Senator Kapenga in the near future, and plans to discuss the special session call in caucus on Tuesday,” his chief of staff Dan Romportl wrote in an email to WisPolitics.com.
Following Tuesday’s Senate special election, Walker sent a series of tweets about the need for a wake-up call, and Dems sought to link that to Thursday’s announcement.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer, D-La Crosse, also noted Walker has recently urged lawmakers to move up approving his plan to shut down the state’s youth prisons after initially proposing to start the process in 2019. He also has embraced a proposal to let low-revenue districts raise more money through property taxes after it was combined with a plan to boost state aid for small, rural schools. Shilling said the guv is “throwing policies out to see what sticks.”
“It’s sad and desperate that he thinks the best way to win re-election is to go after struggling families who are trying to get ahead,” Shilling said. “This is not the issue impacting families across Wisconsin, and this is not the issue families want fixed.”
Ten bills are included in the special session call. Among them: the photo ID FoodShares proposal, which had been working its way through the Legislature as a separate bill. The new bill is identical to AB 702.
Meanwhile, six of the proposals would need a change in federal law or a waiver, and the guv’s office said no fiscal estimates have been done for any of the bills.
The package includes:
*LRB-5218/5282, which would allow DOA to contract with a private vendor to create a “pay for success trust fund.” Those with a proposal to address an issue with social, employment or correctional services provided to individuals could bring it to the state and then negotiate an incentive based on the expected budget savings. That money would be set aside and the state would only pay the vendor if the goal was achieved.
*LRB-5207/5276, which would create a pilot program to make monthly payments to those who received the Earned Income Tax Credit rather than waiting until after they’ve filed their tax returns to send them a lump sum. The two-year program, which would include 100 participants, would require IRS approval.
*LRB-5217/5279, which would require DHS and DCF to create performance-based payment systems for W-2 and food stamps vendors.
*LRB-5214/5258, which would move the work requirement for FoodShares to 30 hours from the current requirement of 20 hours and expand it to able-bodied adults with dependents, if the feds approve. That requirement is now 20 hours and only applies to able-bodied adults without dependents.
*LRB-5213/5286m, which would require expand work requirements for food stamps that now apply only to able-bodied adults to those have school-aged dependents. It would begin Oct. 1, 2019.
*LRB-5222/5287, which would ban anyone from qualifying for food stamps, W-2 or Wisconsin Shares if their home is worth twice the statewide median value — which is now $321,000 — or they have a car that’s worth more than $20,000. There is an exemption for agricultural land included in the bill, and W-2 would retain current law banning ownership of cars worth more than $10,000. Agencies could write rules creating hardship exemptions, and some provisions would require a federal law change.
*LRB-5216/5288, which would cut off from Medicaid those able-bodied adults who refuse to cooperate with a paternity test or comply with a child support order. Federal approval could be required.
*LRB-5223/5289, which would add drug screening to the application process for those seeking public housing. It would require a federal law change.
*LRB-5246/5290, which would create a savings account program for Medicaid. It would require federal approval.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said it was not clear yet when the chamber would take up the bills.
He said Assembly GOP leaders are looking at being in at least four days over the second and third weeks of February and may add more.
He also said leaders are trying to limit the number of bills on any one day’s calendar to avoid marathon session days as the Assembly tries to wrap up its work.
Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, questioned why if the welfare bills were such a priority they were introduced a little more than a month before Assembly GOP leaders hope to adjourn. He suggested Walker is pushing the bills now because polling tells him it would be popular and because the president and House Speaker Paul Ryan are talking about similar issues that “stoke resentment toward segments of the population on government assistance.”
“It seems a little reactive and desperate,” he said.