Hunger advocacy groups concerned about proposed changes to state’s welfare system

Top Republicans say bills prevent welfare fraud
Hunger advocacy groups concerned about proposed changes to state’s welfare system
Volunteers stock shelves at The River Food Pantry in Madison.

Changes could be coming to Wisconsin’s welfare system, as a Wisconsin State Assembly committee is scheduled to vote on a series of welfare reform bills on Tuesday.

Some of the proposed changes include increasing the amount of hours that able-bodied adults have to work from 20 to 30 and requiring a photo ID for those using the FoodShare program. For the first time, parents with school-age children would have to meet the work requirements, as well.

State hunger advocacy groups are worried that the changes would create barriers to accessing essential nutrition programs and create unnecessary burdens on local food banks.

Charles McLimans, executive director of The River Food Pantry in Madison, said the food pantry is opposed to any efforts to restrict essential food programs.

“We believe that food is a right and not a privilege. That’s why free access and unimpeded access to essential nutrition programs is a matter of justice,” McLimans said.

During his State of the State address in January, Gov. Scott Walker called a special session to pass the welfare reform package.

“We want to expand welfare reform statewide, and we want to ensure that everyone getting public assistance can pass a drug test,” Walker said.

During a public hearing last week, Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the bills add a layer of protection to the state’s welfare system.

“These bills prevent fraud and abuse by ensuring that only those who are truly needy receive the benefits that are available to them. A photo ID on your QUEST card for FoodShare recipients will simply add an additional later of fraud deterrence,” Vos said.

David Lee, the executive director of Feeding Wisconsin, said if the welfare reform measures pass, it could mean more people would come to food pantries at a time when they’re already seeing large numbers of people.

“We believe this might affect a lot of people, some of whom are already coming to the food pantry. They might just need it more often,” Lee said.

McLimans said The River Food Pantry, which distributes 60,000 pounds of food every week, is already out of space and needs more cooler space to accommodate all the nutritious food the pantry is trying to distribute.