Thursday, May 10, 2007

Happy Birthday to Wisconsin’s W-2!

Wisconsin’s ground-breaking welfare reform program (W-2) is ten years old!

Then WI Governor Tommy Thompson (pictured left) instituted the reforms back in 1997 and since then Wisconsin’s welfare rolls have dropped sharply.

W-2 requires recipients, including single mothers, to work or get job training in exchange for a check and child care. It replaced the conventional welfare program, Aid to Families With Dependent Children, which had been around since the 1930s.

When W-2 began in full in 1997, 34,491 families received cash assistance. This past March, it was 6,047 families.

Detractors point to a 2005 state audit that found that only about 20 percent of participants earned more than the poverty level in the year after they left. The audit also learned that mismanagement led to $1.3 million in overpayments to some parents.

Critics also point to higher costs. AFDC cost $430.9 million in fiscal year 1996-97, the last full fiscal year before AFDC ended. For the current fiscal year, W-2 is expected to cost $591.2 million, down from $707.8 million in 2002-03.

Jack Tweedie, a welfare expert at National Conference of State Legislatures, said at least four times more money went to cash assistance under AFDC, whereas more money now goes to child care.

Of course the initial aim of W-2 was and remains to get people OFF the dependency cycle of old styled welfare and back into the workforce and the real world. Thus, despite the outlays for child care having increased costs, the initial goal of W-2 has been met.

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