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Wisconsin Assembly to pass Gov. Walker’s welfare overhaul bills

MADISON — The state Assembly plans to pass a welfare overhaul package championed by Gov. Scott Walker as part of his re-election year agenda that would give Wisconsin one of the toughest work requirements for food stamp recipients in the country.

Walker is touting the welfare bills, which are up for a vote Thursday, as a way to give people on food stamps the worker training and experience they need to get a job that will allow them to leave public assistance. Walker also cites Wisconsin’s 3 percent unemployment rate, and need for more workers to fill openings, as rationale for the work requirement.

But Democrats and other critics say it’s an election-year ploy designed to appease his conservative base and that the change will actually make it more difficult for people to get out of poverty. Opponents have also pointed to the projected $90 million annual cost of the bills as another reason against them.

The Assembly is rushing to pass the proposals before wrapping up its work. The Senate plans to pass the measures as well, Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Wednesday. The Legislature is expected to adjourn for the year in March.

Wisconsin already has a requirement that able-bodied adults receiving food stamps work or receive worker training at least 20 hours a week. Walker is now proposing that Wisconsin be one of the few states with a work requirement of 30 hours per week — the maximum allowed under federal law.

The current requirement has led to about 25,000 able-bodied food stamp participants finding work and more than 80,000 cases of members who lost their benefits through December.

He also wants to make parents with children between the ages of 6 and 18 subject to the work requirement as well beginning in October 2019. That would require federal approval.

Other bills up for passage Thursday would:

— Require drug screening, testing and treatment to be eligible for public housing. Walker has already asked President Donald Trump’s administration for approval to drug test Medicaid and food stamp recipients.

— Require photo IDs to participate in the food stamp program, which needs federal approval. Only Massachusetts and Missouri have such a requirement currently. Critics say this would be cumbersome to administer and wouldn’t help anyone get a job, while supporters say it would cut down on fraud.

— Prohibit participation in Medicaid for any able-bodied adults who refused to cooperate with paternity determination of a child, establish or enforce any child support order or obtain other payments a child has a right to receive.

— Forbid any individuals from receiving food stamps and other Medicaid benefits if they own a home worth double the median value home — or about $321,000 — or own a vehicle worth more than $20,000.