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By Representative Dan Knodl
September 5, 2012
 
When it comes to government reforms, Wisconsin is always on the forefront.  This stems from our drive to keep government efficient and our desire to help others.  In 1987, this drive focused on reforming an antiquated welfare system.
 
Our efforts culminated in the creation of the Wisconsin Works (W2) program in 1996, under the leadership of Governor Tommy Thompson. W2 marked a fundamental change in the way welfare works.  No longer would the state merely hand out checks—participants would be given the chance to earn wages and gain job experience.  As Governor Thompson stated, “W2 means the end of the automatic welfare check. We believe that everyone is capable of some level of work, and W2 will help participants move directly into work at the earliest possible time…”
 
Under the W2 program, participants are not “entitled” to assistance. W2 is a work program.  To receive benefits, participants must meet several financial and non-financial requirements.  For example, participants must be a resident and US citizen or qualified alien and be involved in approved activities leading to employment.  Eligibility is limited to those with a gross income at or below 115% of the poverty line.  In addition, participants are caped to only receive W2 benefits for 60 months over their lifetime. 
 
Once eligible, participants meet with a financial and employment planner to develop a strategy for employment.  The planner will assess their educational awareness and work experience and place the participant in one of four types of employment.  The types of employment include unsubsidized employment, a trial job, community service, or a transitional placement.  The planner also has the ability to take some of this work time for supplemental educational activities if needed.
 
For a time, W2 was a remarkable success.  But over the years, fraud and dishonesty crept into the system, and participants would sometimes lie to their W2 worker without penalty in order to maintain eligibility and keep the money rolling.  But thanks to Governor Walker’s taskforce on Waste, Fraud, and Abuse, as well as the passage of Senate Bill 426, we have renewed our emphasis on identifying and preventing fraud.  The Department of Children and Families has also cracked down on cheats by rededicating resources to fraud prevention and providing new reporting mechanisms for taxpayers to blow the whistle on public assistance thieves.  
 
The people of Wisconsin have a finite amount of resources, and they work too hard to see their money go to those who are trying to take advantage of the system.  Taxpayers simply can’t afford that, which is why we must continue to work to make sure that we are able to provide a helping hand only to those who are truly in need.