(The Center Square) – Welfare reform under former Gov. Scott Walker seems to have worked in Wisconsin.
A new report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty looked at the impact of Walker’s reforms between 2015 and 2019, and found that more people went back to work over those four years.
Walker signed a law in 2015 that required able-bodied adults without children to work at least 20 hours a week in order to keep their food stamp benefits, known as FoodShare in Wisconsin.
It was not a popular decision at the time. Wisconsin’s Democrats called the then-governor cruel for requiring people to work in order to keep their benefits.
The WILL study looked at those able-bodied adults who went back to work, and said there were thousands of them.
“This study estimates more than 28,000 in Wisconsin entered the workforce, as a result of the reforms, between 2015 and 2019,” the authors noted.
The study also looked at Wisconsin in comparison to other Midwestern states that passed similar reform laws. In all of those states including Iowa, Indiana, and Missouri, labor participation went up and unemployment went down.
“On average there was a 0.62% increase in labor force participation,” the study found. “And on average, there was a 0.53% decline in unemployment.”
Will Flanders, WILL’s research director, said the data show that moving people from welfare to work does in fact work.
“The evidence in this study suggests that policymakers can successfully tailor government policy to incentivize increases in labor-force participation and transition people back to work,” Flanders said. “As the threat of the virus hopefully shrinks, policymakers should keep these lessons in mind to incentivize work and spur recovery.”
Walker said the study shows there’s a benefit to prioritizing work.
“This serves as proof that there is no limit to what hard-working families in Wisconsin can do when they are given the dignity of work and a chance to be part of a growing economy,” Walker said. “Working with a reform-minded Legislature, we enacted bold policies in Wisconsin that led to more people working than ever before, and public assistance that was more like a trampoline and less like a hammock.
Walker’s reforms, however, are not permanent.
Current Gov. Tony Evers erased some of those reforms when he took office by rolling back a provision that parents with school-aged children find work in order to keep their FoodShare benefits.
FoodShare enrollment under Evers has skyrocketed. A report from earlier this year showed a spike in families joining FoodShare in both April and August when the coronavirus numbers jumped in the state.
“Particularly given the current circumstances, welfare reform opponents will likely work to remove the remaining work requirements that Governor Walker put in place,” the study’s authors wrote in their conclusion. “Getting people back into the workforce after the coronavirus will be challenging, and the food stamp system should not represent a roadblock between employers and potential workers, but instead aid in getting people back to the daily grind.”
Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.