Nearly 15,000 people have been dropped from the Wisconsin food stamp program, FoodShare. The steep drop follows the reinstatement of rules that require able-bodied and childless adult recipients to either work a job or participate in an employment training program for 80 hours a month.
Under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a former GOP presidential candidate, Wisconsin has been one of the leading states in curbing the numbers of food stamp recipients, although the efforts to shrink the government program has been met with criticism and concern.
The new food stamp work requirements, which were implemented in April, are a return to an older federal law, which was waived following the economic recession in 2009. As the economy has improved, many states reinstated the law.
Wisconsin has roughly 60,000 able-bodied adults eligible to work a job currently on FoodShare. Twenty-five percent of them were dropped from the program between July and September 2015, according to The Associated Press.
Hunger Task Force Executive Director Sherrie Tussler told AP she is concerned that those who lost their benefits will turn to food pantries in droves.
“They will bankrupt our food banks,” Tussler told Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
She added that while restrictions on food stamp programs are supposed to be tightened as economies and job growth improve within a state, Wisconsin has been too quick to boot people in need off the program.
“There would, ultimately, as the economy recovers, come a time when it [work requirements] would become the law of the land again, and it has in other states like Minnesota, but Wisconsin wasn’t economically prepared to employ all of the people on food stamps,” Tussler told The Badger Herald.
She predicts 60 percent of FoodShare recipients under work requirements will lose their benefits, driving 32,000 Milwaukee citizens to food pantries and soup kitchens. If these resources cannot keep up with the growing demand, a statewide hunger crisis could occur.
Kevin Concannon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for food and nutrition, has also voiced concern that the job rate in Wisconsin cannot provide the work necessary for FoodShare recipients.
Concannon told Wisconsin Public Radio that states like Wisconsin should not be slapping restrictions on food stamp programs “when there’s a shortage of jobs that will pay sufficient income for many of the very people who have been served in the past.”
Walker has defended the new restrictions, saying they are reasonable and fair.
“You get kicked off after a certain amount of time if you won’t enroll in one of our employability and training programs and if you won’t look for work,” Walker said at the Northern Wisconsin Economic Development Summit, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
“Doesn’t mean you have to find it right away," he added.
Recipients with work requirements can receive benefits for up to three months even after failing to search for work, according to AP.