It was a controversial concept: Require Wisconsin residents to work or get job training to be eligible for FoodShare benefits (commonly known as food stamps). Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the state Legislature forged ahead with the idea in two consecutive budgets and allocated more than $50 million to the FoodShare Employment and Training program. Starting in April 2015, able-bodied adults without dependent children would be required to work 80 hours per month or enter the FSET program. If they did not comply after three consecutive months, they would lose their benefits.
Since then, program statistics show that more than 8,000 people have entered the workforce from the training through December; however, more than 30,000 prior recipients have lost their benefits.
Q&A with Kenyata Walker
Kenyata Walker of Madison has been on FoodShare since having a daughter in 2010. After getting her GED in 2012, she wanted more schooling and enrolled voluntarily in FSET, before it became mandatory. She shares what it has been like to participate in the program.
You’ve been in FSET for two and a half years. Tell me what you’ve done there.
I meet with [my case worker] every three weeks and as needed. She’s very helpful with schoolwork and having my back. I come [to the job center] for job searches and I look for different things just to help me pursue making myself better.
And they help you with child care and transportation?
I get gas vouchers every three weeks … I go to [Madison College] on the east side, I live on the southwest side and my job is in Oregon. They give me $35 every three weeks and that helps me tremendously. And since I work at least five hours a week, my daycare is pretty much covered in full. Because I’m a full-time student and part-time worker, that’s [a] tremendous help to me.
Tell me what you’ve learned over this time.
I learned that there is definitely help here if you want it. There are workshops you go to weekly and they have great networking. It’s not what you know, per se, it’s who you know. I’m going to school for medical assistance and they’re helping me network.
How difficult is it to be a parent, a full-time student and a part-time worker and do this training as well?
Oh, gosh; it is very hard. I am religious so I just have faith ... Some days I say, “How?”—but I know it’s all for the best.
Do you think people should be required to do the program?
Yes, if you’re able bodied, you can do it—especially if you don’t have any children ... if I can do it ... you can do it.
What do you see in your future?
I see in my future developing more in the medical field, getting a house and being self-sufficient—financially able to provide for my daughter and myself without the state assistance. And frankly, give [the slot in the program] to the ones who really need it.