Wisconsin changes welfare program after audit criticism

Thursday, January 10, 2002

MADISON, Wis. -- Welfare recipients whose disabilities keep them from complying with state work rules won't unfairly lose out on state assistance, under new changes to Wisconsin's pioneering welfare-to-work program.

Rachel Biittner, spokeswoman for the Department of Workforce Development, said the changes should improve the Wisconsin Works program, which has been criticized in state audits for getting relatively few people out of poverty.

"We'll never say the program is perfect. I don't think you can say that about any program. What we're saying is we're always willing to look at ways to make it better," Biittner said.

Under the changes, welfare recipients with disabilities won't be penalized if their disability prevents them from showing up at a training program.

Other changes will prevent welfare recipients who are docked some or all of their cash assistance from losing out on the money before they have a chance to appeal.

In some cases, penalized welfare recipients successfully appealed, but they wouldn't get the money in time to keep them from being evicted or having utilities shut off, said Carol Medaris, of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

"It means there's a better chance that a person won't be sanctioned wrongly," Medaris said.

Last year's audits faulted the program for getting relatively few people out of poverty, for lax monitoring of private agencies and for placing few people in education or training that could lead to self-supporting jobs.

About 8,500 people received cash assistance from the state in November, the most recent figures available.

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