Nearly 15,000 food stamp recipients in the state of Wisconsin lost access to their benefits after new work requirements took effect, data from the state show.
According to information released to the Wisconsin State Journal by the Department of Health Services — and later posted to the DHS website — about one quarter of the state’s 60,000 work-eligible food stamp recipients were dropped from the program between July and September.
New rules, which took effect in April, stipulate that able-bodied food stamp recipients with no children at home must work at least 80 hours a month or be looking for work in order to stay in the system.
The law automatically enrolls all eligible recipients into a work-training program called the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program. Those who choose not to participate can continue to receive benefits for three months until they are cut off.
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About 4,500 recipients have found work in the program, the State Journal reports.
The Wisconsin law resembles many laws in other states that are just starting to take effect. The rules are actually a return to old rules that were passed with the federal welfare reform laws of 1996, known officially as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.
Many states received waivers from the federal government to suspend the work requirements in the midst of the recent recession as high unemployment rates made finding work too difficult.
But as the economy recovers, many states are reinstating the work requirements.
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North Carolina is one of those states, reports the Asheville Citizen-Times. That state will begin a phased implementation of the work requirements beginning Jan. 1, when 23 counties begin enforcing the rules. The remaining 77 counties are expected to be on board by the end of 2016.
In Pennsylvania, work requirements will begin in the more economically healthy counties early next year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. As the changes take effect, nearly 30,000 in the state could reportedly be at risk of losing benefits.
In Wisconsin, the changes are expected to put a hardship on the state’s food pantries.
“The Department of Health Services must understand that a substantial increase in the need for emergency food caused by a loss of food buying power (FoodShare) will result in wide scale shortages in Milwaukee,” Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Milwaukee-based Hunger Task Force, wrote in a letter to state officials, according to the State Journal. The Hunger Task Force helps supply local food pantries and soup kitchens.
However, Republican state Rep. Mark Born, who chairs the State Assembly’s committee on public benefit reform, said the work program is working as it is meant to.
“So far we have seen thousands of individuals follow the FSET program and secure employment as a result,” he said in a statement. “It is important we continue to enact reforms and transition people from reliance on government to independence.”