Thousands of Wisconsin residents, who get what many call food stamps, will now have to work if they want to keep the benefit.
The new rules governing the FoodShare program take effect Tuesday in three southeastern counties, including Racine. The requirements will take effect statewide come January.
The federal government requires healthy adults receiving food assistance to work. In 2008, during the recession, Wisconsin successfully asked if it could drop the requirement. But in the current state budget, Gov. Walker and legislators decided it was time to reverse course.
Claire Smith of the state Department of Health Services says the work requirement won’t affect all 850,000 Wisconsin recipients, only able-bodied adults with no minor children. That’s about 63,000 people.
“So that basically means you’re going to need to work at least 80 hours each month or take part in a work program, like our FoodShare Employment and Training program,” Smith says.
Smith says Tuesday, the state will begin testing the new rules in Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties.
"This new requirement’s going to take effect with people who newly apply beginning July 1, or with individuals in those three counties when they renew their benefits,” Smith says.
Smith expects the pilot program to affect about 5,000 healthy adults. She says caseworkers will determine if recipients’ current jobs meet the new requirement. If applicants need to find work, they’ll be directed to workforce development agencies.
One that’s ready to assist people is the Racine County Human Services Department.
“There is an array of services for people with or without a high school diploma and all these services are free of charge,” says Supervisor Clairbel Camacho.
She says the agency can help people build job skills and link with employment, even if they’ve had trouble with the law.
People who don’t find work or participate in job training will lose their FoodShare benefits after three months. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau predicts that half of recipients will decide not to meet the requirements.