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Wisconsin Gets Work-Not-Welfare System

April 25, 1996

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ Wisconsin took itself out of the nation’s welfare system today with the signing of a law making it the first state to require work or job training in exchange for aid to families.

``Today is Independence Day for families on welfare,″ said Gov. Tommy Thompson, who signed the bill this morning at Brenner Tank, a Fond du Lac business that has hired welfare mothers and fathers.

``We are lifting the gate that trapped generations of families in a well of despair and dependency,″ said Thompson, chairman of the National Governors’ Association and a leading advocate of welfare reform.

The new program called Wisconsin Works, or W-2, would replace Aid to Families With Dependent Children. Passed by the Legislature last month, the law is scheduled to take effect statewide by fall of 1997, assuming Thompson gets approval from Congress to use AFDC money for the program.

Mark Greenberg, senior staff attorney for the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, D.C., agreed that the W-2 program is the first of its kind in the nation in requiring work in return for aid.

After two consecutive years, or a lifetime total of five years, W-2 participants are dropped from the program.

Counties and private agencies would work with the welfare mothers to match them to jobs. The state expects nearly 8,000 to find unsubsidized jobs paying an average of $5.99 an hour. An estimated 26,600 would take subsidized community service jobs at $3.19 an hour and 13,300 would receive transitional jobs paying $2.98 an hour.

Child-care and health-care benefits would be provided, depending on income.

Wisconsin has been a leader among many states increasing work and training requirements for welfare recipients. President Clinton has vetoed two welfare-overhaul bills written by congressional Republicans, but has granted more than three dozen states waivers to experiment with welfare changes.

Supporters of W-2 believe it will help recipients escape a system that encourages dependency rather than self-sufficiency.

``The best way out of poverty is a job,″ said state Sen. Carol Buettner, an Oshkosh Republican.

Critics contend it will force those on welfare into low-paying jobs and hurt their children. Unlike AFDC, a W-2 paycheck would not increase with family size.

``You cannot be so fixated on work-not-welfare that you end up with work-not-parenting,″ said John Huebscher, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Council. ``The big reservation is the loss of a promise that society will help vulnerable children.″

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