By M.D. Kittle |Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Gov. Scott Walker has a message for single, able-bodied adults on food stamps in Wisconsin: You will train for food.
The Republican governor spent Monday traveling the state and laying out a nearly $100 million workforce development campaign, including reform of the state’s FoodShare Employment and Training Program.
Federal law requires able-bodied adults without dependent children to meet work or job training mandates as an eligibility condition for food stamps. Since 2008, Wisconsin’s food-for-work-or-training program has been administered on a voluntary basis.
Walker wants to take away that voluntary tag. He laid the groundwork last summer when his administration informed the U.S. Department of Agriculture the state intends to enforce the work-training requirement for single, able-bodied adults beginning July 2013.
In short, qualifying FoodShare beneficiaries will have to enroll in employment and worker training programs through the state departments of Health Services, Children and Families or Workforce Development. If don’t, the beneficiaries will be “subject to federal time limits on nutrition assistance benefits.” Put another way, they can kiss their food stamps goodbye after their effective three months of standard eligibility.
Participation in employment programs for adults with dependent children, the elderly, and people with disabilities will remain voluntary.
Walker wants nearly $17 million in new state funding for his reform proposal, and about $17 million more would come from federal funding.
Currently, 46 states, including Wisconsin since 2002, have waivers exempting certain populations from this eligibility requirement, according to the Walker administration.
As of December, 6,289 FoodShare recipients were voluntarily enrolled in the employment training program in Wisconsin, and about 40 percent of those were able-bodied adults without dependent children, according to the state Department of Health Services, which administers FoodShare. More than 840,000 Wisconsin residents on average collected food stamps monthly in 2012, according to DHS.
Walker’s proposed policy change would require 76,000, single able-bodied adults to participate in a state-sponsored job training program, according to DHS.
Nationally, in fiscal year 2010, about 3.9 million able-bodied adults between 18 and 49 received food stamps in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, according to a Congressional Research Service Study. That’s an increase about 2 million beneficiaries since 2008.
About 47 million people collected food stamps at some point last year, according to the federal government.
While fiscal conservatives have long called for the return of stricter work and job training requirements tied to food stamps, the efficacy of such train-for-food initiatives remains in question.
A 2005 University of Wisconsin study reviews evidence that indicates “Use of labor market intermediaries for job placements, community colleges for training and a variety of efforst that involve local employers are found to be among the most promising approaches in improving job retention among low-income working adults.”
A 2003 federal Government Accountability Office study noted there were no nationwide data that existed on whether the Food Stamp Employment and Training programs helped participants get a job.
“While some outcome data exist at the state level, it is not clear the outcomes were the result of program participation,” the study notes.
At the time, USDA had no plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the program nor had the departments of Labor or Health and Human Services include Food Stamp Employment and Training participants in their studies of the hardest-to-employ.
Not much has changed over the past decade. A GAO spokesman said the federal agency hasn’t done any updated reviews on job training and food stamps.
GAO’s 2003 report still stands in many respects. The agency found Food Stamp Employment and Training participants are a small proportion of the food stamp population and do not usually receive cash assistance from other programs.
Program officials in 15 states contacted for the GAO study described the population as “generally hard to employ because they have little education and work history.”
That’s why tying job training to food stamps is so critical, proponents of the programs insist.
Jim Morgan, president of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Foundation, said Wisconsin employers have posted plenty of job openings – even in an uneven economy. But those jobs remain vacant in large part due to a lack of skilled candidates, some not able to pass a basic drug test, others lacking basic work ethic.
“Members have told us they have offered a position and the applicant will say, “That would be great but could you wait six months? I have 26 weeks left on my unemployment compensation,” Morgan said.
“There needs to be an incentive, that if you’re going to continue to collect (food stamps), you have to be in a job training program.”
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