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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Issue of the Week: Revising the W-2 Program

Plus Heroes and Jerks of the Week

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When then-Gov. Tommy Thompson launched the Wisconsin Works (W-2) program in 1996, it was supposed to end welfare as we know it by getting people to work for their benefits, which would lead to independence and family stability. Though the goal of helping people off of welfare and into productive employment was excellent, the design of the program was seriously flawed from the beginning.

As a result, more than 12 years later, the program hasn’t really delivered on its promises, and many W-2 consumers, who want to find steady, family-supporting jobs, become frustrated by the program’s limitations.

So when Gov. Jim Doyle proposed changes to W-2 as part of his biennial budget, advocates cheered because the program would be more flexible, less punitive and easier for the state to monitor. The proposed changes are based on a dozen years of studies and should provide a better chance for the program to succeed in its very difficult goal. Doyle’s plan allows consumers to stay in the program up to five years, the federal standard; gives mothers of newborns up to six months of benefits; and drops penalties that didn’t change behavior, such as penalizing parents of kids who don’t attend school regularly.

Predictably, Sen. Jeff Plale, a conservative Democrat, blasted the plan, saying it was too generous, and wants to take it out of the budget so it can be debated in the state Legislature. His Republican ally, ultra-conservative state Rep. Robin Vos of Caledonia, says that Doyle’s plan to remove penalties for parents of students who skip school is misguided, even though W-2’s administrators found that it did not improve school attendance and was expensive and difficult to monitor and enforce.

So why take it out of the budget, as Plale suggests? Plale has put forth no positive proposals that could be debated if this item were taken out of the budget. This issue has been debated to death and the changes that Doyle is proposing are generally accepted by all but the extremists. The Legislature has more pressing issues to deal with that go beyond giving Plale and his pal Vos another opportunity to grandstand as they demonize the mothers on welfare who would like to get trained for a job that will support their children.


Heroes of the Week: Sweat-Free UWM

A two-year campaign to rid UW-Milwaukee of apparel made in sweatshops has culminated in a victory for the Sweat-Free UWM coalition. The university announced last week that it would sign onto the Designated Suppliers Program, which mandates that university-licensed apparel is manufactured in factories that treat workers well and pay a living wage. The coalition includes Milwaukee Students for a Democratic Society and the Milwaukee Graduate Assistant Association; UWM is the 46th university to sign onto the sweat-free program.


Jerk of the Week: Kevin Fischer, Aide to Sen. Mary Lazich

While candidates and concerned citizens are trying to drum up interest in the spring elections, insipid FranklinNow blogger Kevin Fischer, whose day job is in the office of conservative state Sen. Mary Lazich, is trying to discourage people from voting. Well, in a recent lame attempt at humor he’s trying to discourage liberals and moderates from voting. Funny, hey? Fischer’s “official voting guide” includes such insightful items as “If you think Johnny’s band class is more important than reading, writing or arithmetic, please don’t vote,” “If MSNBC is your favorite cable channel, please don’t vote,” “If you’ve ever had a dream about light rail, please don’t vote,” “Do you think teachers that have to work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day from September-mid June have it really tough? Please don’t vote” and then the capper “If you intend to vote for the bona fide, authentic conservative of your choice, then by all means, please do vote.” He repeats the advice “If you think taxes are too low, please don’t vote” because, we assume, conservatives have no ideas other than cutting taxes for the wealthy, even though tax cuts put public education in jeopardy.