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GOP wants voters to weigh in on whether welfare recipients should look for work

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Legislative session

State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, attends the opening of the 2021-22 legislative session at the state Capitol in Madison.

The Legislature’s top Republicans are proposing asking voters in April whether some adults should have to actively seek work to continue receiving taxpayer-funded benefits.

“Shall able-bodied child-less adults be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits?” the referendum would read, according to the joint resolution introduced Friday by Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

The Assembly and Senate will vote on the measure next week, according to a statement by the two legislative leaders. If adopted, the question would go to voters for the April 4 election.

Unlike bills, joint resolutions don’t need to be approved by the governor. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers last year vetoed several GOP proposals that would have reduced benefit programs in Wisconsin — proposals that Republicans said would have helped put Wisconsinites back into the workforce as employers statewide deal with labor shortages.

The results of advisory referendums are nonbinding.

“This is an opportunity for us as policymakers to hear directly from Wisconsinites,” Vos said Friday. “Last session I voted to provide real solutions to the workforce crisis to get thousands of people off the sidelines and back into jobs. Unfortunately (Gov.) Evers did nothing.”

Wisconsin Works, the state’s primary Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, already requires participants to work or take part in “activities to help you get ready to work” to receive cash assistance.

Other Wisconsin benefits programs do not have a requirement that recipients work or seek work.

Among the bills Evers vetoed last year is AB 937, which would have tied the maximum number of weeks a person could claim unemployment benefits to the state’s overall unemployment rate. Currently, an individual can receive up to $370 in weekly state unemployment benefits for 26 weeks.

Under that bill, claimants would have received 26 weeks of benefits if the state unemployment rate was greater than 9%, while the number of weekly benefits would be reduced to as few as 14 weeks if the rate was at 3.5% or lower.

At the time, Evers wrote in his veto message he was denying the bill “because I object to adding more barriers for individuals applying for and receiving economic assistance through programs largely designed to provide support when individuals and families are experiencing economic hardship.”

Other measures Evers vetoed last year include:

AB 934

  • , which would have required the state Department of Health Services to determine a person’s Medicaid eligibility every six months.

AB 935

  • , which would have required DHS to enforce a federal work requirement, including drug screenings, for able-bodied adults without dependents in order to take part in the state’s FoodShare program, which helps people with limited money buy food.

AB 936

  • , which would have removed an individual’s Medicaid eligibility if they knowingly failed to accept an offer for legal, paid employment or an increase in paid hours.

AB 939

  • , which would have required the state Department of Workforce Development to consider reports of an individual declining a job offer or failing to attend a scheduled interview when determining a claimant’s eligibility for benefits.

The state Department of Workforce Development reported last month that Wisconsin’s unemployment rate in November was 3.3%, slightly below the nationwide rate.

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My first year at the Wisconsin State Journal gave me — and hopefully our readers — several stories worth looking back on. 

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