If you think of Wisconsin as a progressive pioneer in the development of social welfare policy, the first state to offer unemployment compensation, it pays to remember that it was also the home of Joseph McCarthy, who built his career by attacking the welfare state. The “Wisconsin Works” (or W-2) welfare statute is being touted as another example of pioneering social policy, but toward what end? Wisconsin’s “reform” is in the vanguard now, but federal policy is encouraging other states to follow.
New federal welfare legislation eliminates any entitlement to benefits, requires states to impose time limits and work requirements, and generally leaves the states with discretion, allocating federal funding in block grants. But it’s not at all clear how states will respond, especially since politicians, trying to win support by denouncing welfare, have expounded contradictory purposes. They argue that they can combine getting people “off welfare” and helping them, fostering “work not welfare” and saving tax money, promoting “responsibility” while protecting children. Telling the truth about our options requires recognizing that the overall state of the economy, not individual character, is the major limit on helping the poor to be able to live and support their children on their earnings, and that helping them do so would cost more, not less, public funding for welfare....
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