Wisconsin is touted as the model state for welfare-to-work programs, but a number of antipoverty organizations there say the massive cuts in the state’s welfare rolls have succeeded only in increasing hunger and homelessness.
The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families reports that the number of Milwaukee residents served by food banks increased by about 14 percent in 1996 after the strict “Wisconsin Works” welfare program began, and that the number of individuals turned away for lack of space from Wisconsin homeless shelters that year increased by 69 percent.
The Council and others say there’s been a marked increase in the number of families and singles who have no income whatsoever.
Wisconsin was one of the first out of the gate on welfare reform experimentation, and its program includes three to six months of subsidized employment in the private sector for some welfare recipients, as well as an extensive workfare program and the privatization of most welfare services to nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
Welfare rolls dropped by one-third during 1996 and even critics concede that about half of those who left welfare have found employment–though much of the change could be attributed to a booming Milwaukee economy and its extraordinarily low unemployment rate of less than 5 percent.
For a comprehensive summary of the Wisconsin program from a critical activist perspective–along with a summary of antipoverty organizing efforts in Milwaukee–see the latest “Organizing Brief” from the Center for Community Change, titled “Does Wisconsin Work?” Call 202-342-0594 for a copy.