Re: Wisconsin Welfare

Bonnie Briggs (
Tue, 12 May 1998 08:22:28 PDT

>FWD  CC Replies to author "Laura Riviera" <>
>Wisconsin has recently announced that they have no more welfare
>recipients, and all of their former welfare recipients are either 
>or being "trained."  Here are some specifics on what is happening.
>Wisconsin has no more "welfare" recipients, because they have just 
>their welfare system.  Everyone is now in the W-2 program.  This 
>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 
>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 
>employment.  Neither do these "jobs" provide work experience other than
>having to show up on time (the idea is that welfare recipients never 
>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 
>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 
>Public Education Initiative, Rogers says, "Overall, the labor 
>in terms of what is most likely to be the kind of education and 
>that every employer expects of their potential employee, is what are
>called the "soft skills" or core ability trainings.  We hear this over 
>over again from employers that before you can begin to train for any 
>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 
>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 
>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 
>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 
>for training purposes."
>Employers are having to monitor performance of these "participants" 
>on these criteria.  If a person "fails", they are penalized in some 
>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 
>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 
>her child was ill so she can stay home with the child and not be
>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 
>to the hospital (which costs the state much more money than allowing 
>to stay home with the child that day and keep her grant).  If it is not 
>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 
>may be cut (at the caseworker's discretion) and the family's food 
>may be cut down to $10/mo.
>Keep in mind that this penalty is much more than the amount received 
>hour for working.  The amount of child support collected from the 
>goes directly to the state.  Essentially, women are working for their
>child support which is included in the monthly grant to the family and 
>essentially, "taken away" if she misses work.
>[I know a woman who was a straight-A psychology major who was being 
>she had to quit school to "work for her grant" (over 2/3 of this 
>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. 
>at that time) was deducted from her grant.  She was even sanctioned 
>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 
>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 
>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 
>their beer cans and bottles on the floor so they could watch her bend 
>to pick them up.
>Another woman was required to put pegs in round holes on a board. When 
>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 
>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 
>not willing to work and will be removed from the program by the case
>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 
>where the caseworker has determined to his/her satisfaction, that a
>participant has performed these "soft skills" to the point where she 
>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 
>they have these "soft skills."
>The 3rd job placement position is called "subsidized employment".  This 
>where the state pays a company to hire someone in the program at 
>wage.  Basically the same assumptions were made here - they need to 
>how to be "willing and able" to work - which is why the state is 
>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, 
>we have yet to hear of this happening.
>What we do hear is that after 6 months, the company calls the 
>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 
>We've also heard from many women who were working and barely making 
>meet until welfare reform began.  They were pushed out of their minimum
>wage jobs by these less expensive employees provided by the state and 
>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 
>reform' and to 'move people from welfare'. -Ed.]
>In Milwaukee County, the welfare caseload increased by approximately 
>since welfare reform began (mainly for this reason).  This was reported 
>the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in July (?), 1997 (not sure of exact 
>The 4th job placement position is called "unsubsidized employment."  
>is where anyone who has even a part-time job is considered job ready 
>is literally pushed out of the program (receiving no subsidies).  The 
>here is that if someone can find one job for 5 hours a week, they 
>be able to find 7 more like that and support their family.  They are 
>ready."  I've talked to a number of women who have been told this by 
>There is a tremendous amount of fear now in the poverty community that 
>person will actually be able to find a job, because they know if they 
>even a part-time job at min. wage, they will be removed from the W-2
>Many families who have been in this category are now homeless.  The 
>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 
>most are praying that they don't find a job at all or they somehow win 
>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 
>quite a few inquiries asking what is happening in this situation.  We
>don't know that specifically, but we have heard several cases (either 
>the news or from the mothers themselves) regarding this lack of child 
>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 
>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 
>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 
>participate in their "volunteer job," because the neighborhood was not
>safe for their children to walk to/from school without an adult 
>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 
>old girl was molested on her way home.
>Recently, we heard of a 12-year old girl who was at home by herself 
>sick from school) while her mother was working and was raped by a man 
>broke into the home.
>Another woman left her 1 year old son out in her car all day because 
>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 
>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 
>in the attic of the building she "works" in while she is doing her "job
>On 4/28/98, a 3-year old child had his middle toe amputated because of 
>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:
>I do have a report that was recently published which may answer some 
>general questions on how welfare reform is affecting families called, 
>Our Own Words:  Mothers' Needs for Successful Welfare Reform."  If you
>would like a copy, send me a mailing address (at: 
>I will get that to you asap.
>  ~ Laura

Bonnie Briggs
Hi Laura,
  This is scary. The scariest part is, it sounds a lot like the Workfare 
program that Mike Harris is bringing in. His Workfare program doesn't 
have any daycare provision either, not to mention no transportation 
money and no benefits, among other things. How are you fighting this? 
Can you give us any suggestions? Keep up the fight. Resist and fight!

Get Your Private, Free Email at