A group of Republican state lawmakers believe Wisconsin should be able to scale back public assistance benefits, as those receiving them improve their job situation.
In a letter to Governor Scott Walker, state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and a group of nearly three dozen GOP lawmakers argue many potential workers in the state avoid taking jobs or turn down promotion because they worry about losing access to benefits, such as child care assistance or tax credits. “I’ve talked to employers who had great employees turn down professional opportunities because the raise won’t cover the loss of benefits from public assistance,” Darling said. “It’s extremely difficult to accept a raise or a promotion if it means you lose your childcare. It can keep people stuck in a cycle of government dependence.”
The lawmakers are calling on the governor to apply for a federal waiver that would allow Wisconsin to create a “sliding scale” of welfare benefits. The move would allow benefits to be changed incrementally, as a person’s income rises, instead of cut-off completely once a person’s income rises beyond a set level. Lawmakers argue in the letter that the move would be crucial in eliminating the financial disincentives for some people to work.
Darling said she’s not aware of any other states that have implemented a sliding scale approach. However, she said the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump will be looking for new ways to approach public assistance programs, and she believes Wisconsin could become a leader on the issue with this idea.
Proposal raises concerns
While he applauds the sentiment of wanting to remove barriers to work, Jon Peacock with the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families said he “strongly opposes” this particular solution. “Most people who get public assistance are currently working, and most of the kinds of assistance they get are already based on a sliding scale,” he noted.
In particular for health care benefits through Medicaid, Peacock said he worries what Republicans are seeking would mainly affect those living below the federal poverty line. He said those are the primary areas where the state would need a federal waiver to adjust the benefits paid by many of the public assistance programs it runs.
Peacock also took issue with the assertion that many people are turning down jobs or promotions because they don’t want to lose access to benefits. “We think that’s greatly exaggerated,” he said.