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Committee passes Walker’s public benefits reform bills; advocate says they stigmatize poor



Wisconsin is a step closer in reaching sweeping public benefits reforms.

A special committee on Tuesday approved Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to reform public benefits by, among other things, requiring a photo ID and drug testing in childless able-bodied adults for FoodShare.

Walker proposed 10 different reform bills to be taken up in a current special session. The special committee approved all 10.

Among the critics calling to slow down the reforms is the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin, which is part of the ELCA.

Reverend Cindy Crane there questions proposals meant to tackle, among other things, issues of fraud in Foodshare by requiring recipients to have photo IDs. Lawmakers are aiming at the wrong target on that one, she believes.

“Just about 1 percent of fraud is done by the recipient of FoodShare, and 10 percent is done by the people selling — the retailers,” Crane said. “In general, we feel that a lot of assumptions are being made about people in poverty. That they have to be managed carefully.”

One estimate pegs the cost of implementation of all 10 at $90 million per year.

Crane says on most of the 10 bills, the state looks like it’s trying to stigmatize the poor.

“They’re usually on public benefits for a short period of time,” She said. “Why do we want to stigmatize them even more and place more hurdles in front of them when they’re in a vulnerable place?

“It’s hard to see how you can put these bills forward and say you have a positive view of people in poverty. You wonder what a lot of this is code for.”

The full Senate and Assembly have to agree to the bills.

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