LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is calling for a special session in order to pass several bills aimed at reforming welfare and other forms of public assistance. Increased work hour requirements, drug testing and treatment are at the center of these bills.
The governor started off Thursday's news conference at Colgan Air by announcing that the unemployment rate in Wisconsin is at three percent. That also means there are a lot of job openings without many people to fill them.
Walker is hoping these bills get additional people back in the workforce and off of government assistance. He says the 10 bills under the Wisconsin Works for Everyone welfare reform plan are based on statewide listening sessions.
"People said, 'I want to help people but if people are able to work, it shouldn't be permanent dependency,'" Walker said.
The bills would make several changes to the FoodShare Employment and Training program and public housing. Anyone participating in those programs would have to undergo drug testing.
"For some reason they test positive, we're not kicking them off the program. We're just making sure they enroll in drug treatment so they can become self sufficient," said State Speaker Robin Vos, (R) Rochester.
Under the proposed legislation, able-bodied adults living in public housing, in the training program or receiving food stamps would have to work 30 hours a week, instead of 20. The Republican legislators supporting these bills say that if people are not working, they need to be in training to do so.
"We want to make sure we've tied that in with the help to get the job and get the skill sets and build those skill sets through experience," said State Senator Chris Kapenga, (R) Delafield.
The plan also establishes asset restrictions for certain welfare programs. For example, a participant's home value could not exceed $321,000. However, there would be certain exemptions.
"We want to make sure that people who have a lot of wealth in their assets aren't taking away from the pot that is supposed to be available for the people who actually need it," Kapenga said.
Walker says these bills are aimed at people who are able to go back to work but there would be some exceptions, such as for people with disabilities.
"We don't write them off, either. We just get them the help and assistance they need, oftentimes with an accomodation," Walker said.
Many Democratic legislators have released statements saying this is an attack on families with children who are trying their best. One such legislator is State Senator Jennifer Shilling (D) who represents La Crosse, Vernon, Crawford and Monroe counties.
"I think one of the examples is with the drug testing of participants is it is expensive. We have seen in other states that have implemented it that they don't receive the savings that they have projected," Shilling said.
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