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News :: Civil & Human Rights

Wisconsin 'workfare' a total failure report finds

W-2 is “a Frankenstein of a social program? and is “the $1.5 billion mistake of a welfare program unleashed on thousands of poor people in Milwaukee and Wisconsin that drove single women with children off the rolls to fend for themselves in a declining economy,? wrote Eugene Kane, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s only African American columnist May 1.
Wisconsin 'workfare' a total failure report finds

By Bryan G. Pfeifer

W-2 or “Wisconsin Works? is a complete failure.

After consistently gloating about the overturning of Aid to Families with Dependent children (AFDC) former Governor Tommy Thompson and his corporate bosses were nowhere to be seen or heard from when the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau issued its 272-page W-2 or "Wisconsin Works" evaluation April 7, the most comprehensive to date.

But many politicians who clamoured to dismantle AFDC and usher in W-2-Democrats and Republicans alike-are now doing an about-face in an effort to either distance themselves from the report's conclusion which calls for a virtual overhaul of this failed social policy, or are lying to the public by saying they actually care for W-2 recipients by supporting the report's conclusions.

After the untold human misery and suffering as a result of W-2 detailed in the report, Thompson and his accomplices should be tried by a people’s commission led by current and former W-2 recipients for crimes against humanity among others.

Those fighting the attempted privatization of Social Security might want to study this report closely.

The Bureau's findings include:

*W-2 recipients who left the program in late 1999 earned on average just $8,300 the first year out of the program and less than $12,000 by the fourth year. Working for a temporary help service is the most common job for former recipients followed closely by nursing homes and health care service providers, retail services and eating and drinking establishments. Almost all of these jobs are non-union, low-paying, high turnover jobs with virtually no legal worker protections.

*Disparate treatment of W-2 clients, including evidence that Blacks were “sanctioned? at a higher rate than whites for “rules infractions.?

*Only 19.2 percent of W-2 recipients who left the program in late 1999 earned incomes above the federal poverty level a year later.

W-2 is “a Frankenstein of a social program? and is “the $1.5 billion mistake of a welfare program unleashed on thousands of poor people in Milwaukee and Wisconsin that drove single women with children off the rolls to fend for themselves in a declining economy,? wrote Eugene Kane, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s only African American columnist May 1 (www.jsonline.com). The $1.5 billion figure is the amount spent on W-2 from its implementation September 1, 1997 until early 2005.

“Those who chose to remain in the program were subjected to an overly punitive, racially discriminatory system that made their lives more difficult and never delivered on its promise of economic salvation,? added Kane.

Under the national Welfare Reform Bill signed by former Democratic President Bill Clinton in August 1996, Aid to Families with Dependent Children -- a lifetime guaranteed federal entitlement program won through the working class and oppressed battles of the 1930s and in effect for over 60 years -- was dismantled. AFDC was replaced by a time-limited, work-based act entitled Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

TANF lifted most federal mandates on all 50 states, thereby allowing them to develop their own workfare programs, as they came to be known. Currently, the maximum lifetime limit for TANF benefits is five years with some exemptions granted in various states. If recipients use up this time, they are on their own to survive. States are allowed to choose their own limits below the five-year TANF maximum. Wisconsin's is two years.

With the implementation of W-2, services to recipients were dispensed from five private contractors in various geographic zones in Milwaukee County instead of from county social service agencies under AFDC.

Since 1997 two of the contractors have had their state contracts rescinded due to graft, kickbacks, profiting from purposely providing minimal levels of service or none at all and other illegal activities.

Numbers dropped from 35,000 families statewide near the end of AFDC to 23,000 at W-2's start September 1, 1997, then to 11,000 in April 2000. Eighty percent of W-2 recipients reside in Milwaukee County. Thompson and others such as his Heritage and Bradley Foundation backers who created W-2 glibly refer to this as “success.? And it was for them: they succeeded in dismantling one of the greatest and most successful federal entitlement programs largely through a multi-faceted, multi-year racist ideological campaign.

The Bureau's report confirms what many like the former Milwaukee-based A Job is A Right Campaign claimed in its publications like "The Feeding Trough...": that W-2's implementation would result in an ever-wider reserve pool of super-exploited low-wage labor, mostly women of color, increasingly at the mercy of an unstable capitalist economy with vastly decreasing safety nets such as subsidized public housing and childcare assistance. Major corporations, temporary service agencies such as Manpower Inc. and non-profit service agencies are now benefiting the most from W-2.

Furthermore, W-2 has also been used to batter down other long-held publicly-controlled institutions like public education.

The evisceration of Social Security could be next unless an independent class-wide mass movement rises to the occasion and defeats this sure-to-be catastrophic privatization plan, paling in comparison to the dismantling of AFDC.

To view the Bureau’s report see: www.legis.state.wi.us/lab.

Pfeifer was A Job is A Right Campaign organizer from 1997-2002.

(c) 2005 Bryan G. Pfeifer. Article may be used in whole or in part provided full attribution is given to author.

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Union labor donated.

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