Gov. Scott Walker’s well-documented record of favoring corporations over the wellbeing of our neighbors was the silent theme of his recent State of the State speech. After seven years under Walker, Wisconsin is reeling from his irresponsible policies that favor the wealthy and well connected. Walker has seen the writing on the wall ahead of the 2018 election and has decided to double down on his divide and conquer strategy of pitting neighbor against neighbor by targeting the most vulnerable amongst us.
Instead of taking a hard look at his policies that have left Wisconsin ranked dead last in business startups, 34th in the nation for private sector job growth, and 10th most moved out of state, Walker has decided to blame our state’s most vulnerable citizens.
After throwing $4.5 billion in corporate welfare to a foreign corporation, Walker is now taking steps to slash our state’s critical support programs. The governor’s call for a special session of the Wisconsin State Legislature aims to create new laws that will drastically harm our neighbors who are already struggling financially. In addition, these pieces of legislation do nothing to address the underlining factors that contribute to joblessness, hunger, or poverty.
As Wisconsinites, we believe that helping our neighbor is key to the success of our entire state. In such, we must acknowledge the reality that the unemployment and underemployment experienced by so many of our neighbors is brought on, in part, by the unwillingness of Republican leadership to invest wisely in proven solutions that help people get back to work at a job that provides a living wage. The inability to access quality education, reliable public transportation, affordable childcare, and medical care have left so many of our neighbors in a system that sets them up for failure.
The neighbors that Walker seeks to turn us against depend on resources like FoodShare, BadgerCare and housing assistance for basic standards of living. Their temporary need is born out of necessity. Walker’s proposals make it clear that the Republicans in control of our government do not care about addressing the true barriers of quality employment that our neighbors face. The proposals included in Walker’s effort to further dismantle safety net programs could actually lead to increased costs and ignore best practices.
One example of his punitive proposals is the requirement of photo identification cards for FoodShare recipients. Many in Wisconsin might not realize the FoodShare program is designed to make sure households get enough to eat and that the benefit can be utilized by the entire household, not just the individual listed on the card. Struggling families all pitch in to make it work and FoodShare recognizes this. The new restriction would prohibit household members from going to the store for the family.
To put this in real life terms, think of how many of us need our spouses and children to run to the grocery store while we are at work or taking care of minor children. The move to require FoodShare cards to have a photo ID is unnecessary as Wisconsin already has strong safeguards against fraud and the move would require grocery stores to act as enforcers of the new layer of bureaucracy. Furthermore, since Foodshare is a federally funded program, this action would require a federal waiver from the United States Department of Agriculture, which has given no indication of approving such a request.
In addition to changes proposed to the FoodShare program, legislative Republicans are pushing mandated health savings accounts for Medicaid recipients. Though saving for medical expenses seems like a good idea, the fact is that because our neighbors are in financial distress, mandating yet another monthly expense to their already tight budgets could leave families at risk of not having the funds to pay for food and shelter. Additionally, because Walker and Republicans continue to make healthcare more expensive than in neighboring states, the creation of a health savings account is likely to lead to Walker pushing them further to fend for themselves against growing health care costs.
Furthermore, Walker and legislative Republicans have decided to stigmatize our neighbors who are going through tough times by forcing them to be drug tested before receiving FoodShare. Walker is trying to sell this as a way to help people; however, the reality is that he is attempting to discourage people with a serious health issue from seeking Foodshare in the first place. On top of violating federal law, this unnecessary and demeaning practice will cost our state, like it has other states, hundreds of thousands of dollars and result in large legal battles in which the taxpayer will be left holding the bill.
The reasons why people may be temporarily unemployed or underemployed vary, but they need assistance to make ends meet and by taking those minimal supports away Wisconsin will continue to fail in getting families back on their feet. The moral of the story is that Walker should not waste time blaming those most hurt by his anemic economy or deny basic necessities to the most vulnerable children, families, and people with disabilities in our state. Instead, we should be expanding economic opportunities that grow our middle class and lift families out of the cycle of poverty and address root issues to complex situations.