One of my roles in the legislature is that I chair the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform. In that role I work on ideas to make our public benefit programs more effective at their main function, which is to help people in need obtain or re-obtain gainful permanent employment that will enable them to earn a living and support themselves and their families.
Last week Governor Tony Evers vetoed a number of good ideas that the legislature passed in the form of bill. As chair of the Public Benefits Committee I want to talk about just three of them. All of these bills came before the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform which I chair.
Assembly Bill 934 would have made needed changes to our Medical Assistance (MA) program to help protect valuable taxpayer resources. The bill required eligibility for MA to be redetermined every six months and information to be cross referenced between state agencies that collect financial data. DHS would be required to promptly remove all ineligible individuals unless prohibited by the federal government. In addition, individuals that fail to update financial data that would make them ineligible would be removed from the program for six months.
Health care coverage is important, and it is sought by many. It is expensive. Reliance on MA is rising and with that reliance comes increased costs to taxpayers. AB 934 would not have reduced MA benefits, it would not have increased the difficulty of getting on MA. It WOULD have increased oversight of the program to make more certain that people receiving coverage are really in need of it, according to the criteria we already have in the law. And yet, AB 934 was vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers earlier last week.
Assembly Bill 935 would have required Wisconsin DHS to enforce work requirements for those who are able to work that were codified in 2017 Act 370. In essence Act 370 required that able-bodied adults without dependents were required to meet work requirements to receive FoodShare
benefits (food stamps) beginning April 1, 2015. Since then Gov. Evers’ DHS has used various exemptions as a reason not to implement these requirements. Meanwhile, employers around Wisconsin are crying out for employees.
We need to provide a hand up to those in need, but we need the recipients of that hand up to meet basic requirements for looking for (and engaging in) employment. That is after all the goal of FoodShare and other programs: Helping people get, or get back to, gainful employment and permanent self-sufficiency. The legislature sent Governor Evers one more reminder, one more summons, to help us do that. He declined, and instead vetoes AB 935 earlier last week.
Assembly Bill 936 would have taken a step towards preventing fraud on our Medical Assistance programs and getting people back to work. Under AB 936, if someone fails to accept a job offer, an increase in work hours up to 40 hours per week, or an increase in wages, simply to maintain their eligibility for Medical Assistance, they would be determined ineligible for the program for six months. The bill would have applied to able-bodied adults without dependents who are between the ages of 18 and 65.
MA was never meant to be a permanent health care option for able-bodied, work-eligible individuals without children. AB 936 was simply an attempt to reinforce this and to make the program comply with its intent. And yet, once again, this common-sense cost-saving reform was (you guessed it) vetoed by Governor Evers earlier last week.
I don’t understand what Governor Evers was thinking. The legislature sent him three well-done, common-sense, cost-saving proposals – three good ideas – that would have made the administration of public benefits in Wisconsin more like it should be. These three ideas were, indeed, Public Benefit Reform.
My Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform recommended these three good ideas for passage; the Assembly and the Senate passed them and concurred in them. Why Governor Evers would choose to veto them, I cannot explain. I hope to have an opportunity to discuss these ideas again next session.