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Wisconsin lawmakers vote on whether to add welfare work requirement question to April ballot

It's a topic that often comes with heated debate: should people in Wisconsin have to prove they are working or are looking for a job in order to receive welfare benefits?
Wisconsin State Capitol.
Posted at 4:44 PM, Jan 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-17 14:14:42-05

MADISON, Wis. — It's a topic that often comes with heated debate: should people in Wisconsin have to prove they are working or are looking for a job in order to receive welfare benefits?

The issue is heating up again in Madison. Wisconsin lawmakers will vote Tuesday on whether to add an advisory referendum to the April election ballot. It would ask whether able-bodied, childless adults should be required to look for work in order to receive state welfare benefits.

It's a move led by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu - both Republicans.

“I don't agree with it,” said Angle Whitelow. “I am on welfare, I don’t have a job, and it’s hard to find a job. It would make life harder for so many people. It feels like a hit on the poor and disadvantaged. Some jobs prefer higher education, I may not have that. Others prefer a clean background; some people may not have that.”

If passed, the referendum would have no effect. But political experts say it's an issue that conservatives are passionate about.

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In March of 2017 when a Marquette University Law School poll asked a very similar question, 79 percent of Wisconsin voters favored a work requirement for welfare. Seventeen percent opposed it, and four percent said they didn’t know.

“I don't know how much the Republicans really want to pursue this, versus doing it to appeal to their base,” said Greg Jenks of New Berlin.

It's important to consider timing. Also, on April's ballot is a state Supreme Court seat up for grabs. Conservatives currently hold a 4-3 majority of the court, but conservative Justice Patience Roggensack is retiring. Two liberals and two conservatives are in the race for the open seat.

Many political analysts believe an added ballot question regarding welfare requirements is aimed at boosting conservative voter turnout in April.

“Not too many people who are on welfare vote," Whitelow said. “It’s unfortunate. Every vote counts.”

“It’s a sad reality of politics right now and why I think voter turnout is low overall,” said Jenks. “It seems like both parties are more concerned about doing things that benefit them politically than doing things that we, the people, benefit from.”

TMJ4 did talk to some Republican voters for this story, but none of them wanted to be on camera. They shared that people abusing state welfare benefits is a real issue we should be focusing on more in Wisconsin. They don't believe the referendum is a move to just get more conservatives to the polls.

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