Friday February 23, 2018

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Who is Working Under the Governor's New "Wisconsin Works" Program?

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 06 February 2018
in Wisconsin

walker-wi-worksDuring testimony last week on the 10 Special Session bills covering new requirements for FoodShare, Medicaid and other government assistance programs, one of the questions that no one answered was the cost. Here is some research to help you understand the implications of these bills.


MADISON - “With more people working in Wisconsin…, we can’t afford to have anyone on the sidelines, we need everyone in the game,” stated Governor Walker, calling for a special session to take up bills he nicknamed, “Wisconsin Works for Everyone.”

The Senate Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations Committee, of which I am a member, took up the special session bills in a recent public hearing. The 10 bills make substantial changes in eligibility for FoodShare (nutrition) or BadgerCare (medical care). Many of the bills limit assistance for families experiencing hard times.

To move things quickly, Senate and Assembly Committees met in a joint hearing – the only public hearing scheduled. Committee chairs took up all ten bills at the same time. At times, during the hearing, members were admonished by the Chair to ask only one question on all of the ten bills.

Lawmakers had scant information on the plans. Agency directors, who will carry out the new laws, knew very little about who would be affected. They could not answer questions about how much the state would pay to implement the new laws. No fiscal estimates were available at the hearing.

During the hearing, we learned about the hub of the Governor’s plan to get everyone working – the FoodShare Employment and Training program – commonly called “FSET.”

FSET is run by private companies. Curiously, our Assembly Chairman was a former employee of one of these companies.

Getting training and employment sounded like a great idea. I was eager to learn if the program really helped people. I wanted to know who would be participating under the new law.

grocery-store-checkoutAbout two-thirds of the people who get help from FoodShare cannot work. They are blind, elderly, disabled or children. Of the one-third left, nearly half are already working. Most folks are working part-time, low wage jobs. They want more hours, but can’t get them.

We heard about problems with the private contractors, including contractors that received incentives to get people into low-wage work, not training. In one case, a woman’s work experience was in fast food. She wanted to obtain her high school diploma, but the contractor sent her to another low-wage fast food job, without a chance to get back in school.

From her perspective, the program was a failure. From the state’s perspective, with her low wages, she would continue on FoodShare. Her life was not better. The state did not have fewer people on FoodShare. But the private contractors got paid.

I began to wonder, who’s working here and at what cost to taxpayers? Do we know if this program works? Has it been evaluated?

In brief, I learned that Wisconsin moved to a voluntary FSET program in 2008. In 2013, lawmakers asked for a yearly evaluation of the program. Walker vetoed the evaluations. In 2015, money was budgeted for a program evaluation. However, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, by May 2017, no evaluation was completed. When I asked where was the $850,000 budgeted for evaluation, no one could answer the question.

Why wouldn’t the state want to know if the program is working? When I finally obtained the fiscal estimates, I began to see a very different story of who works and who pays.

If all 10 special session bills are enacted, the implementation and ongoing costs will be nearly $240 million in the next budget. In eight of the 10 bills, the state will pay a significant amount of new money to outside contractors. For example, mandatory FSET participation and incentive payments would add almost $50 million for the FSET contractors.

Many of the bills will allow the contractor to collect public money for program changes not currently allowed under federal law. The state will seek special permission from the Trump administration to make the changes.

Now, I see a new story. Private contractors stand to gain. Governor Walker has new initiatives he can brag about across the state. New employees will work for the now wealthier contractors.

But is Wisconsin Working for Everyone who is hungry, in need of health care, or child care – not so much. All of the organizations focused on helping the working poor testified against the bills.

Please tell your Legislators to Vote No!

****

Read 10 Special Session Bill here.

Wisconsin Public Radio: Walker Calls For Special Session On Welfare Reform

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Area Legislators Propose Help for Paper Industry

Posted by Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd has not set their biography yet
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on Tuesday, 06 February 2018
in Wisconsin

kc-neenahStuck, Hansen, Nelson, Hintz Call for State Action to Help Keep Mills Open in the Paper Valley.


APPLETON, WI – Following the recent announcement of paper mill closures from Kimberly Clark, State Representative Amanda Stuck, State Senator Dave Hansen, and Outagamie County Executive Thomas Nelson spoke at the Paper Discovery Center, home of the Paper International Hall of Fame about steps the State of Wisconsin should take to help preserve the paper industry in Wisconsin and in Paper Valley.

tom-nelson“I grew up five miles from here, in Little Chute, where every other household had a family member who worked at a paper mill. I’m here today for those folks,” stated Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson. “I understand marketplace dynamics; I know that industries change. But I also understand that if the State of Wisconsin can muster $3 billion for a Chinese company, it can spare one percent for one of its own,” said Nelson, “We need to help the home team and that’s why I’m here.”

dave-hansen“The closing of these mills and resulting loss of jobs loss is especially troubling. Paper industry jobs are some of the best in Wisconsin. For generations, they have played a key role in creating a sustaining a strong middle class in our state. These jobs are some of the best blue collar jobs in Wisconsin,” said Sen. Dave Hansen. “The funds we are proposing today account for just 2% of the total commitment that Governor Walker has made to Chinese-owned Foxconn,” stated Hansen. “But we believe it’s more than enough to help our mills convert to more prosperous lines of paper and become more efficient in the process.”

amanda-stuck“In the last 20 months we have seen 6 companies in the Fox Valley announce closures and layoffs impacting more than 1,800 family supporting jobs in our community,” stated Rep. Amanda Stuck. “It is past time that the State of Wisconsin takes action to help stabilize the paper industry, if we can afford billions in taxpayer support to Foxconn we can afford to help protect this home-grown industry” said Stuck. “We are proposing legislation that will help mills transition to brown paper product production and a fund that will help this industries become more efficient and reduce one of the only costs that are within their control to reduce. These proposals will help paper stay in the Paper Valley for many years to come.”

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Republican Trickle-Down Economic & Tax Policies Cost Wisconsin Jobs

Posted by Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Melanie Conklin
Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Melanie Conklin
Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Melanie Conklin has not set their biography yet
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on Friday, 02 February 2018
in Wisconsin

kimberly-clarkScott Walker owns the Kimberly-Clark layoffs say Dems.


MADISON - Yesterday, Kimberly-Clark, a paper-based manufacturing company, announced that it was shuttering two facilities in the Fox Valley. The closure of these facilities, Neenah Nonwovens and the Cold Springs plant, will cost 600 Wisconsin workers their jobs.

Kimberly-Clark’s Chief Financial Officer, Maria Henry stated clearly that these closures were prompted by the recent Republican tax bill, promoted by Gov. Scott Walker and pushed into law by Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson to enrich their corporate backers. Henry said that the GOP tax bill provides capital for their “restructuring” and layoff plans, so they can still have “flexibility to continue to allocate significant capital to shareholders.”

Translation: The Republican tax bill allows them to close factories and ship jobs out of Wisconsin while making their rich shareholders even richer.

martha-laning“Wisconsin deserves a governor who stands up for workers and fights to keep jobs here,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning. “Walker has shown that he’s not interested in making efforts to stop Wisconsin plant closings like Oscar Mayer and Appleton Coated. Republican tax and economic policy focuses only on those in the boardroom, not the workers in the lunchroom.”

kc-workersWisconsin deserves to know: Did Walker do anything to keep these good jobs and factories in Wisconsin? Did he meet with Kimberly Clark or make any attempt to stop the job cuts caused by Republican tax plans?

During his 25 years in public office, Walker has pushed tax policy that benefits the ultra-wealthy and mega-corporations he serves. A prime example of this is his 2011 tax cut said to benefit manufacturing, which in reality focused on billionaires. A full 75% of the benefits of this Republican tax cut went to individuals with a yearly income over $1 million. By the end of 2019, this Walker tax bill will have cost Wisconsin taxpayers $1.3 billion - $1 billion of which will have gone to the wealthy elite.

Had Republicans tax giveaways required supporting jobs here in our state and country, Kimberly-Clark might not be laying off 600 Wisconsinites.

Making matters even worse is Walker’s reckless and shockingly expensive giveaway to Foxconn. Revised estimates show the deal now costing $4.5 billion, most of which is a cash payment to a giant foreign corporation.

The shuttering of two more major manufacturing facilities begs the question: Why are we giving away so much to billionaires and Foxconn when Wisconsin businesses are struggling?

“Workers are losing their jobs due to Scott Walker and Republicans failed trickle-down economics,” added Laning. “They keep showering the ultra-rich and giant corporations with our hard-earned tax dollars, and the only thing that trickles down from it are pink slips.”

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Farmers Advocate for Agriculture and Rural Communities

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 30 January 2018
in Wisconsin

farm-familyFarmers need to take on the role of citizen lobbyists to share concerns with their legislators about the importance of the state of agriculture and rural communities.


ALMA, WI - Farmers from several western Wisconsin counties traveled to Madison as part of the annual Ag Day at the Capitol.

On the day the Governor delivered his State of the State address, farmers shared with their legislators, the state of things in their world.

Safety is always on the mind of farmers. For one farmer, farm safety was a heightened worry when his daughter took drivers education. He told me, folks traveling down rural roads often ignore the turn signals and lights on his tractor. People will make the dangerous decision to pass him when he is turning left into a farm field. There have been instances when drivers hit the farm equipment.

“Why don’t they teach drivers education students about taking care while driving around farm equipment?” he asked me. “How can we change this?” We talked about how many schools out-sourced drivers’ education, which made it difficult for school board members to influence what was taught in farm country.

Farmers play numerous roles in our communities. Many serve on the local school board because they see public schools as essential to sustaining rural communities. Schools are the heart of our rural communities. Schools are where we all gather to cheer on our local teams, laugh at the antics of actors in the school play or cry tears of joy when our babies graduate.

school-closed“I’ve been on the school board now for six years,” one of the farmers shared. He saw what happened to the school after rounds of state budget cuts. The farmers knew the current school funding formula hurt rural schools. They also knew the importance of sparsity aid to rural schools. A budget deal cut back increases in sparsity aid.

Farmers were concerned about bills to take away local school board powers related to referenda. While they agreed, school boards should not keep going back to voters when a referendum to raise taxes failed, but they also thought the state should not take away local authority to decide what to do.

Concerns about immigration and police actions worried farmers whose livelihoods depend on the skills of their devoted workers.

“We hire good, hard working, legal Mexican farm laborers who have families,” said one Pierce County farm couple. “They are continuously getting pulled over by police in the morning and receiving tickets for operating without a license.” The couple was frustrated that legislative leaders were not taking up a bill to allow undocumented farm workers to get a driver’s license.

One Buffalo County farmer said he knew of a worker who was jailed for multiple violations of operating a vehicle without a license. The farm worker requested to remain in jail over Christmas so federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents would not send him back to Mexico.

Rumors of several ICE raids in the middle of the night created anxiety for many farmers and their employees. Some workers moved away because they did not feel safe. Losing workers creates an immediate crisis for dairy farmers who rely daily on the dedication and skill of farm workers.

Losing workers adds to the already tough times for some farmers. Some farm commodity prices are low and farmers experience increases in their input costs – squeezing the farm budget. Recent reports tell us about a decline in the number of western Wisconsin farms. The Eau Claire Leader Telegram reported Dunn, Eau Claire, and Chippewa counties lost a combined 27 dairy herds in 2017. Statewide slightly more than 500 herds were lost last year.

Reflecting on the tough times, Wisconsin Public Radio reported western Wisconsin had the highest number of farm bankruptcies in the United States last year.

One of the farmers who visited my office is part of the network of Discovery Farms. This state program uses on-farm research to provide evidence of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to best practices for keeping nutrients where plants can use them and keeping our waterways clean. The farmers reminded us to use science in setting environmental policies.

Farmers told their stories, and through them, I saw a deep concern for their communities, their workers and the environment. I appreciate the farmers who took time out of their busy schedule to take up the important role of citizen lobbyists for rural Wisconsin.

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Economy a Challenge for Most of Wisconsin

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 26 January 2018
in Wisconsin

lines-farmsMeasures of the economy are split, with some booming counties and others struggling. We need to use our funds wisely when we invest in schools, roads and economic development.


MADISON - Wisconsin’s economy is recovering in some factors, but in general the measures are split and the divide between the economy of booming counties and struggling counties continues to grow. What does that mean and how can we fix it? That just means that the State of Wisconsin needs to use our funds wisely when we invest in schools, roads and economic development.

The unemployment rate in Wisconsin remains at the low rate of 3% according to December 2017 data. That low number is largely driven by a few high population areas in the state that have the lowest rate of unemployment like the Madison area which is as low as 2.1% unemployment. Whether unemployment rate is a good measure of the economy is certainly an open topic for debate, but it is a fact that Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has consistently trended below the national rate for 30 years. While there are more people working in Wisconsin, more people in the workforce is a reflection of more people in the state, it is that simple.

Our neighbors, Minnesota created new private sector jobs at a faster rate than Wisconsin in 22 of 24 quarters since the 2011 state budget. And over six years, Minnesota added 10.8% new private sector jobs, 23rd in the nation where Wisconsin only created 8.5%, 34th in the nation.

Another measure of the state economy is our poverty rate. Unlike unemployment that simply measures if people are working, the poverty rate measures people that are living below the Federal poverty rate, even if they are working. In 2016, the percentage of people living below the Federal poverty line, less than $24,250 for a family of four, was 11.8% that is 683,867 people. The rate of children living in poverty is higher at 16%. This is just another example of why our investments in education and other supports for children in poverty are essential. Wisconsin deserves equal opportunity for our children regardless of where they live or family income.

School spending is certainly a driving factor behind equal opportunity in Wisconsin and after historic cuts of $1.1 billion in public education funding under the current Governor and majority, the slow crawl to increase funding should be faster. School aids in Wisconsin remain $175 million dollars below even inflationary costs since 2010-2011. That is why we must invest our additional education dollars fairly. This past budget gave a bump to every student in the state, but all schools are simply not funded the same because of the value of local property. Wisconsin deserves schools that are funded fairly regardless of where you live and how expensive the houses in your community are.

There is always room to improve our overall economy for the people of Wisconsin. Focusing across the state whether you live in a rural, urban or suburban economy is essential because wasted human potential is wasted opportunity for our state.

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For more information on state support for working families and the state economy call 608-266-6670 or 888-549-0027 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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