Wisconsin doesn’t work for everyone

Gov. Scott Walker proposes employment quotas for food stamp recipients, challenging low-income livelihood

More stories from Nicole Bellford


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Gov. Scott Walker proposed his new welfare reform package, “Wisconsin Works for Everyone,” in cities across Wisconsin last week, receiving mixed reviews.

This past week, Gov. Scott Walker proposed a number of plans as a part of his debut welfare reform package, “Wisconsin Works for Everyone.” If the package is approved, parents who use food stamps will be required to work at least 80 hours a month in order to continue receiving aid.

While this law is already in place for individuals on food stamps, the Leader Telegram reported the reform package would edit the previous ruling that exempts parents with school-age children from such working requirements.

At first glance, I didn’t have much of a problem with Walker’s proposition. Doing the math, such a requirement equates to parents having to work approximately 20 hours a week. That number doesn’t seem overly absurd by any means.

I can undoubtedly recognize the good intentions of the package and how many may view this proposition as a method of forcing able-bodied citizens to find work, rather than relying on government assistance.

“We’re willing to help people when they’re down and out,” Walker said on the proposal. “But we firmly believe that public assistance should be a trampoline, not a hammock.”

This statement struck a chord with me.

To assume all those relying on government assistance such as food stamps are capable of “bouncing back” from their situation is a painfully blind statement. There is no doubt people are out there on food stamps because they lost their job and are experiencing hard times at the moment. And for those people, bouncing back sounds like a relatively reasonable concept.

This is not the case for everyone, though. Citizens who receive public assistance are in this situation for countless reasons. It is not always as simple as temporary unemployment.

In last week’s edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s “Letters to the Editor,” Madison native Ariene Zaucha voiced her opinion on Walker’s proposal. Zaucha said she has a great level of concern with Walker’s package, especially in the realm of food stamps. Through her past experiences of working on a low-income housing project in Madison and getting to know the residents, Zaucha said she feels Walker’s proposals reveal a lack of understanding about the lives of the people he’s targeting.

“I was always inspired by the resilience shown by the residents in the face of incredible adversity,” Zaucha said in reference to her past employment experience. “One woman had been abused since childhood. A man had been institutionalized against his will because he had cerebral palsy and his parents had no other options. A blind man with mental health challenges had been unsuitable to find a job.”

These are the kind of people who never have, and never will be capable of using public assistance as a “trampoline.” It is not possible to “bounce back” from severe mental health problems, from permanent physical disabilities or from lifelong trauma. These are people who need and deserve help, regardless of their ability to fulfill employment quotas.

I can understand the argument that without an implemented employment requirement, there will always be “moochers,” or people who utilize federal assistance as a crutch when they can clearly walk on their own.

This is no doubt a valid thought. However, to those straying toward the side of employment quotas as a means to eliminate a miniscule amount of “moochers,” I ask: Is this response worth it if it means threatening the livelihood of those who have no other means of survival than relying food stamps?

I think Zaucha worded it best when she explained that we will truly never understand those who lie on the hammock unless we experience the way they live. And perhaps if we did, we wouldn’t be so quick to rob them of their livelihood.

“I challenge Walker to live in a Section 8 housing development for even just a week,” Zaucha said. “Meet these people and listen to their stories. Then tell us that his proposals will be helpful.”