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Thursday, May 26th, 2022
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MADISON — Among his latest 28 vetoes, Gov Tony Evers killed a bill that would have brought more accountability, personal responsibility and taxpayer protection to Wisconsin’s welfare programs, critics say.

Assembly Bill 934 required eligibility for the taxpayer-funded Medical Assistance program to be reviewed every six months. The Department of Health Services would have to remove any ineligible individual unless prohibited by the federal government. Beneficiaries that fail to update financial data that would make them ineligible would be banned from the government health insurance program for six months.

Enrollment in Wisconsin’s Medicaid program, BadgerCare Plus. has soared in recent years. As of March, 1,091,470 Wisconsinites were enrolled in the public assistance program —  accounting for more than a sixth of the state’s population. Over the year, the numbers have swelled by nearly 100,000, from 993,851 in March 2021, or about 10 percent.

“AB 934 would not have reduced MA benefits, it would not have increased the difficulty of getting on MA. It WOULD have increased oversight of the program to make more certain that people receiving coverage are really in need of it, according to the criteria we already have in the law,” state Rep. Scott Krug  (R-Nekoosa) wrote in a column.

Assembly Bill 935 would have required Wisconsin DHS to enforce work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults in order to receive FoodShare benefits, the state’s food stamp program. There’s actually a law on the books, signed by former Gov. Scott Walker several years ago, that demands FoodShare beneficiaries without dependents to search for work, but Evers has used a variety of exemptions to stall the requirements.

The measure also included provisions for drug screening, testing and treatment policies for those receiving FoodShare.

In his veto message, the governor said he objects to “adding more barriers for individuals applying for and receiving food security and economic assistance through programs largely designed to provide support when individuals and families are experiencing economic hardship.”

But with record low unemployment, a severe worker shortage, and escalating wages, Krug said there’s no reason why able-bodied adults receiving taxpayer-funded food assistance can’t be looking for work.

“We need to provide a hand up to those in need, but we need the recipients of that hand up to meet basic requirements for looking for (and engaging in) employment,” the lawmaker said. “That is after all the goal of FoodShare and other programs: Helping people get, or get back to, gainful employment and permanent self-sufficiency.”

And Assembly Bill 936 aimed to curb rising incidents of fraud in Medical Assistance. Failing to accept a job offer, an increase in employment hours up to 40 hours per week, or an increase in wages, to maintain eligibile for medical assistance, would get a welfare recipient banned from the health care program for six months. Again, only able-bodied adults without dependents between 18 and 65 would be be subject to the requirements.

“Everywhere you look, businesses are desperate to hire new employees,” said Rep. William Penterman (R-Columbus). “This is the single biggest issue I hear from business owners in my district. It is an issue affecting big businesses, small businesses, and all sectors of the economy. From education, manufacturing, health care, the food industry, to the trucking industry, businesses cannot find enough employees to fill open positions.”

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