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Walker signs sweeping overhaul of state welfare system

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Gov. Scott Walker toured the state Tuesday, signing a series of bills changing the welfare system.

“Really focusing on how to lift people up," Walker said. "Understanding that true freedom and prosperity, don’t come from the clumsy hand of the government. They come from empowering people to live their own lives and control their own destinies.”

The state increases the hours of job training people need to get welfare from 20 to 30 hours a week, and requires parents with school-age children, a previously exempt category, to participate in the program. Walker says they’ve also put more money into the system.

“We’re making more investments into people," Walker said. "The idea though that we don’t want to spend money on dependency, building dependency, but rather spend money on helping people gain independence.”

The Hunger Task Force says the work is often unpaid, and it’s not easy to work 30 hours a week for 100 dollars a month in food stamps.

“You get to keep your food share if you do the work requirement, but sometimes the work doesn’t pay," executive director Sherrie Tussler said. "The work can be volunteer work, it could be mandatory work at a local company, where you’re getting trained, but you’re not getting paid.”

Tussler says way more people lose assistance than get jobs from the program, and the jobs they get aren’t always great.

“The jobs themselves that people ultimately get don’t lift them out of poverty, and so people maintain their eligibility for food stamps because they’re working part-time jobs and minimum wage jobs.”

Walker had already signed a measure to require people to pass a drug test to receive welfare. Some of the nine bills he signed Tuesday require federal approval before they can go into effect, but Walker says the changing federal landscape makes that more likely.

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker signed nine bills into law Tuesday that limit the state's welfare programs, including increasing the work requirement for food stamp recipients and imposing it on parents for the first time.

The Legislature passed the bills in February with Democrats united against them. Walker, a Republican up for re-election in November, championed the new laws as the latest examples of Wisconsin leading the nation in changing the state welfare system to put more people back to work.

"We want to help those in need move from government dependence to true independence through the dignity of work," Walker said in a statement. "We believe welfare should be more like a trampoline and less like a hammock."

Walker has argued for the changes as a way to help address the state's worker shortage problem. While Wisconsin's unemployment rate is at a record low 2.9 percent, companies across the state are struggling to find workers to fill openings.

Walker said the new laws will provide needed training and assistance to help people re-enter the workforce and be independent. He signed them at separate stops at a job center in Wausau, a grocery store in River Falls and a homeless shelter in Milwaukee.

Democrats who didn't have the votes to stop the measures argued they will make it more difficult for poor people to get food and rise out of poverty.

"While Gov. Walker spends millions of taxpayer dollars making it harder for working families to put food on the table, Wisconsin communities continue to struggle with crumbling roads, school funding cuts and economic uncertainty," Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling tweeted Tuesday.

All but one of Walker's welfare proposals passed the Legislature. The Senate did not approve of a bill that would have required a photo ID food stamp benefit card.

Bills Walker signed will cost nearly $80 million and state and federal money once fully implemented and will:

— Increase from 20 to 30 hours a week the time that able-bodied adults, and now parents of school-aged children, have to be working or in job training to receive food stamps under Wisconsin's Food Share program.

— Require drug screening, testing and treatment to be eligible for public housing.

— Prohibit anyone from receiving food stamps and other Medicaid benefits under the Welfare to Work, or W-2 program, if they own a home worth double the median value — or about $321,000 — or personal vehicles worth more than $20,000.

— Block anyone owning a vehicle worth more than $20,000 from getting food stamps.

— Require "able-bodied" Medicaid enrollees to pay child support and participate in child paternity testing or face losing benefits.

— Require state contracts with private groups that help run the food stamps and W-2 welfare programs to have pay-for-performance standards.

— Request a federal waiver to create health savings accounts for Medicaid recipients.

— Create a pilot program for periodic payments of the earned income tax credit. Supporters say that will get the money into recipients hands quicker, in smaller amounts, and help them budget better. But opponents say there may be good reason for recipients to want the money in a lump sum.

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