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Food Stamps groceries shopping, file photo

The Department of Health Services has agreed to pay the federal government nearly $7 million to resolve allegations it falsely claimed a low error rate in its administration of the federal food stamp program for low-income households. 

About 21,000 Wisconsin residents using food stamps have gained employment through a state program designed to connect recipients with jobs, Gov. Scott Walker announced during his annual State of the State address Tuesday.

That’s the number of FoodShare recipients who have gotten jobs through the state program that was created when lawmakers reinstated a requirement that able-bodied adults without children at home be employed in order to keep FoodShare benefits.

But nearly two years after the work requirement went into effect, in April 2015, about 64,000 FoodShare recipients also have lost benefits after receiving three months of food stamps and not looking for nor gaining employment, according to Department of Health Services data released Tuesday.

Walker, in a December interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, said the number of people dropped from FoodShare may have gotten jobs on their own.

“Most of those people went out and got jobs, I believe, on their own; they’re not sitting falling through the cracks,” Walker said. “I think the predominance of people had job opportunities. Human nature is we all need a nudge for things. Labor force participation rate, it’s still very high, which suggests people don’t fall through the cracks.”

David Lee, executive director of Feeding Wisconsin, an organization that advocates on behalf of food shelters and oversees a network of pantries in the state, asked why fewer than 20 percent of the about 145,000 people referred to the FoodShare Employment and Training program ultimately were connected to employment since the program began.

Lee also said it’s important to note that the average wage of participants in the jobs program is about $12 per hour in about a 33-hour work week, making those participants still eligible for FoodShare benefits.

“This is important because despite improving employment numbers in our state, we still have a stubbornly high poverty rate, suggesting that the families in Wisconsin are working hard and playing by the rules but find that they don’t have the opportunities to get ahead,” Lee said.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the success of “our reforms should be measured by the number of people in the workforce, not on welfare.”

The program “helps people move from government dependence to true independence through the dignity that comes from work,” he said in response to Lee’s comments.

Walker is again seeking to change the FoodShare program but asking the federal government permission to test FoodShare recipients for drug use.

In December, the governor wrote a letter to President-elect Donald Trump seeking more state authority to do so. Walker in his last state budget included a provision that allows for drug testing of FoodShare recipients, but federal law prohibits it.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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