Wisconsin Welfare "Reform" [Laura Riviera] FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 11 May 1998 21:17:59 -0700 (PDT)


FWD  CC Replies to author "Laura Riviera" <L1Riviera@aol.com>


     WISCONSIN WELFARE "REFORM"


Wisconsin has recently announced that they have no more welfare
recipients, and all of their former welfare recipients are either working
or being "trained."  Here are some specifics on what is happening.

Wisconsin has no more "welfare" recipients, because they have just ended
their welfare system.  Everyone is now in the W-2 program.  This program
has 4 categories for jobs.  The lower two are the same as most state's
workfare requirements.  The recipient receives a grant for a set amount of
money and must work 28 or 35 (respectively) hrs/wk in a "volunteer"
position (assigned by the caseworker).  These jobs are degrading,
dehumanizing and do not provide any chance to move "up" in that place of
employment.  Neither do these "jobs" provide work experience other than
having to show up on time (the idea is that welfare recipients never knew
how to set an alarm clock and/or dress properly to get/hold a job.

When any government agency or person says that welfare recipients are now
being trained, this is what they mean - that the "training" they are
receiving is what Jean Rogers, the woman in charge of DHHS in WI, calls
"soft skills".

More specifically, at a public hearing videotaped by the Women and Poverty
Public Education Initiative, Rogers says, "Overall, the labor statistic,
in terms of what is most likely to be the kind of education and training
that every employer expects of their potential employee, is what are
called the "soft skills" or core ability trainings.  We hear this over and
over again from employers that before you can begin to train for any other
kind of specific purpose, you need to be sure that folks come to a job
willing to work, able to come on time, able to come every day, able to
come with basic reading and math skills, being willing and understand that
it is required to take instruction from the boss, get along with
co-workers.  These are the core abilities.  What we expect is that as a
tie to be sure that those soft skills are in place, in the case of the
various points on the ladder...that amount of time will need to be put in
by the participant in order to demonstrate, at a minimum, that they have a
clear ability to maintain an attachment to the work force.  Once that has
been done to the financial planner's satisfaction, then that individual -
if they wish to advantage themselves by having other types of training
that are clearly likely to lead to movement up the economic ladder - -
they may then come in and request that child care be able to be accessed
for training purposes."

Employers are having to monitor performance of these "participants" based
on these criteria.  If a person "fails", they are penalized in some way.
For example:

1) public transportation, as most people know, is not always timely or
accurate.  If a person is late for work, it is documented and given to the
caseworker.

2) Being absent is absolutely unacceptable in all cases unless there is
written proof from a doctor that someone was ill (and even that was not
accepted at one point).  Now, doctors are having to take children with
"minor" problems (typical colds and flu), because the day care will not
accept these children and the mother needs a doctor signature to "prove"
her child was ill so she can stay home with the child and not be
penalized.

Doctors who take medical assistance (which is rare in the first place),
now have 6+ months waiting lists for emergency cases - cases that most
doctors accept immediately.  If it's a real emergency, the child is taken
to the hospital (which costs the state much more money than allowing her
to stay home with the child that day and keep her grant).  If it is not an
emergency, the mother is either lucky enough to get in and receive the
doctor's note or she is penalized.

3) Penalty for missing work is the number of hours missed times minimum
wage deducted from the monthly grant to the family.  If a mother misses
more than 25% of her "training" during any given month, her entire grant
may be cut (at the caseworker's discretion) and the family's food stamps
may be cut down to $10/mo.

Keep in mind that this penalty is much more than the amount received per
hour for working.  The amount of child support collected from the father
goes directly to the state.  Essentially, women are working for their
child support which is included in the monthly grant to the family and is,
essentially, "taken away" if she misses work.

[I know a woman who was a straight-A psychology major who was being told
she had to quit school to "work for her grant" (over 2/3 of this "grant"
was actually child support that the state collected from the father and
included in her monthly grant).  Basically, she was working for 60
cents/hour for her grant and, for every hour she missed, $4.65 (min. wage
at that time) was deducted from her grant.  She was even sanctioned while
in the hospital recovering from a heart attack because she missed her
"training" which consisted of filing checks in numerical order for the
courthouse.  She was recently on Dateline - although I haven't watched it
yet so I'm not sure how much of this they included.]

4) The types of jobs people are doing for this "training" are either jobs
that most people would not take if they were paid positions (very
hazardous to health, etc.) or are considered "busy work" (ie, filing
checks in numerical order).

One woman was required to pick up beer bottles in the garage behind a
shelter for drug and alcohol addicted men.  The men would purposely throw
their beer cans and bottles on the floor so they could watch her bend over
to pick them up.

Another woman was required to put pegs in round holes on a board. When the
board was filled, the supervisor would come over and dump it out and
require her to start over.  This is their way of determining if she is
willing and able to follow instructions.

These job categories are filled with positions that are hazardous to
health and are unsafe.  Women are required to cut down trees with no
safety gear whatsoever, working in hospitals having to dispose of
hazardous materials with (again) no safety gear.  They are having to wear
their own clothing and not even given a pair of gloves to dispose of
bloody needles, etc.

5) Women are not allowed to quit any of these jobs or they will be seen as
not willing to work and will be removed from the program by the case
worker.

6) Women are introduced to other employees as "the W-2 participant."
Knowing that this person is required to work at the company for free,
employees automatically feel threatened by this person.  This sets up a
situation where it is very difficult for that person to get along well
with other employees no matter how hard she tries.

Because of all of these things (and more), we have yet to hear of a case
where the caseworker has determined to his/her satisfaction, that a
participant has performed these "soft skills" to the point where she would
be allowed to use child care subsidies to get an education.  Of course,
they never mention the fact that many of these women were already in
college (and doing very well) and told they had to leave school to prove
they have these "soft skills."

The 3rd job placement position is called "subsidized employment".  This is
where the state pays a company to hire someone in the program at minimum
wage.  Basically the same assumptions were made here - they need to learn
how to be "willing and able" to work - which is why the state is willing
to pay a company approximately $300/mo. (for 6 months) for every person
they hire at minimum wage.  The company is required to do everything
possible to keep the person on permanently after the 6 months is up, but
we have yet to hear of this happening.

What we do hear is that after 6 months, the company calls the caseworker
and says, "This person isn't ready for a permanent position.  Send us
someone else."  That company then receives $300/mo. (for 6 months) for
that person and at the end of the 6 months, the cycle continues with a new
person.

We've also heard from many women who were working and barely making ends
meet until welfare reform began.  They were pushed out of their minimum
wage jobs by these less expensive employees provided by the state and are
now in the W-2 program.

[In other words, these women were pushed out of their jobs and INTO
WELFARE because of competition from other, sub-minimum wage women whose
positions (profitable for companies) were introduced as part of 'welfare
reform' and to 'move people from welfare'. -Ed.]

In Milwaukee County, the welfare caseload increased by approximately 26%
since welfare reform began (mainly for this reason).  This was reported by
the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in July (?), 1997 (not sure of exact date).

The 4th job placement position is called "unsubsidized employment."  This
is where anyone who has even a part-time job is considered job ready and
is literally pushed out of the program (receiving no subsidies).  The idea
here is that if someone can find one job for 5 hours a week, they should
be able to find 7 more like that and support their family.  They are "job
ready."  I've talked to a number of women who have been told this by their
caseworkers.

There is a tremendous amount of fear now in the poverty community that a
person will actually be able to find a job, because they know if they find
even a part-time job at min. wage, they will be removed from the W-2
program.

Many families who have been in this category are now homeless.  The state
has made it almost impossible for anyone to get into the system if they
need it - even for emergencies - so this is a concern for those already
in.  They don't want to have to try to get back in at some other time so
most are praying that they don't find a job at all or they somehow win the
lottery (or some other miracle happens).

Many people are also concerned about the recent child care statistics
showing there just aren't enough child care openings for all of these
children whose mothers are now working.  Even when there are openings,
child care is very expensive (ranging up to $800/mo./child.  I've received
quite a few inquiries asking what is happening in this situation.  We
don't know that specifically, but we have heard several cases (either on
the news or from the mothers themselves) regarding this lack of child care
and how this is affecting children (often seeming to result in death,
rape, or other serious events).

Last summer, a woman was sentenced to 90 days in jail for failure to pay a
$100 child care bill.  This bill was supposed to be paid by the state (she
verified this with her caseworker before starting) since she was in
"training", but 4 weeks into her training she was informed by her
caseworker that the state could not reimburse her for this training (she
was enrolled in a 6-week course to become a nurse's aid and had to drop
out at that time).

We heard from several mothers living in the inner city of Milwaukee who
were not allowing their children to go to school on the days they had to
participate in their "volunteer job," because the neighborhood was not
safe for their children to walk to/from school without an adult chaperone.

In a "safer" rural area of the state, we heard from a mother who had to
have her 6-year old daughter take her bike to/from school because the
mother was not able to do this anymore.  One day after school, this 6-year
old girl was molested on her way home.

Recently, we heard of a 12-year old girl who was at home by herself (home
sick from school) while her mother was working and was raped by a man who
broke into the home.

Another woman left her 1 year old son out in her car all day because her
babysitter could not watch him that day (she checked on him every hour)
and he died at approximately 2pm.

Another mother had to leave her children with an irresponsible adult who
fell asleep on the couch and woke up just in time to get himself out of
the burning house while the children were upstairs.  They died also.

Another mother told us that she is allowed to keep her children upstairs
in the attic of the building she "works" in while she is doing her "job
training".

On 4/28/98, a 3-year old child had his middle toe amputated because of a
gun shot wound.  His "babysitter" - a 21-year old male who had several
other people in the home at the time - was "playing with" a gun and
accidentally shot the boy's foot.

I am currently looking for other people/organizations from around the
country who are concerned with (particularly those who know/have heard)
what is happening with welfare reform in their state.  If you're
interested, please respond to me at:  SpanWI@juno.com

I do have a report that was recently published which may answer some more
general questions on how welfare reform is affecting families called, "In
Our Own Words:  Mothers' Needs for Successful Welfare Reform."  If you
would like a copy, send me a mailing address (at:  L1Riviera@juno.com) and
I will get that to you asap.

  ~ Laura

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