State lawmakers held a lengthy public hearing Wednesday on a series of controversial welfare reform bills.
The package of ten bills, included in a special session call from the governor, would create new requirements for public assistance programs such as FoodShare and Medicaid. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) says they have four basic goals – promote accountability, encourage personal responsibility, prevent fraud and abuse, and to get people off government assistance and back into the world of work.
“Public assistance was never intended to be a permanent way of life,” Vos told lawmakers during a committee hearing. “This package will do our part to helping more people move into the workforce and prevent fraud and abuse.”
Democrats argue the bills will hurt struggling families by cutting off access to needed resources. They have also questioned the timing of the proposals, after Governor Scott Walker called a special session to take them up a day after Republicans lost control of a Senate seat they had held for more than a decade.
Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, several advocacy groups held a press conference to urge lawmakers to delay action on the bills and consider programs that help address the root causes of poverty. “However well-intentioned this package of bills might be, they do not address the very real barriers to employment,” argued Brad Paul with the Wisconsin Community Action Program Association.
A committee vote on the bills is already scheduled for Thursday. Lawmakers could take them up on the floor sometime in February.