The Crisis of W-2 in Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE-It comes as no surprise that since the implementation of W-2, or Gov. Tommy Thompson’s Welfare “Reform,” in Wisconsin, Milwaukee is in the throes of a crisis of unparalleled proportions.

As more people are faced with the awful reality of their situation: losing government aid, having to work in minimum wage jobs, receiving no day care, and having families to support, tough decisions are having to be made.

Skipping meals is common for adults and children, since the local food pantries are facing severe shortages due the dramatically increased demand for help. Some are having to leave the state or face the prospects of becoming homeless themselves.

According to statewide data, there were alarming changes in people who were using shelters between 1997 and 1998: 52 percent more families said they were evicted, 42 percent more families stayed in shelters between one and six months, and 145 percent more families reported no income. In addition, the number of families receiving food stamps in Milwaukee County has fallen nearly 10 percent in the last year.

The situation has remained the same over the past few years. Milwaukee, almost overnight, has developed an enormous homeless population, complete with shanty towns existing underneath area bridges.

One large community under the 27th Street viaduct, a large bridge which spans the industrialized Miller Valley, had erected cardboard shelters and collected furniture in an attempt to make a small, livable community. This community was raided and destroyed by city workers, obviously with the approval of our elected officials, taking away what little shelter these people had from the cold Milwaukee winter.

The city of Milwaukee’s officials, as well as the state government, are turning against their poor and, Giuliani-like, are preferring that they simply “disappear.”

Tommy Thompson has declared W-2 a huge success, blatantly ignoring the truths behind its “success” and the many families that have plummeted into abject poverty due to his policies.

As one woman facing the consequences of this reform said, “We’re not nobody to them. They don’t care what happens to us, just so long as no one really sees what we go through every day. They don’t see my babies crying because they’re so cold. I can’t afford no heat. I work, but $6.50 an hour and some food stamps ain’t enough for the four of us.

“My mom has been helping us, but what’s gonna happen when we run out of money? She’s been saving up for retirement, but now most of that money is gone. I don’t know what we’re going to do. Some other women aren’t so lucky, they don’t have no one to help them. We go to St. Ben’s [food pantry] a couple times a week, and they give us what they can, but sometimes it ain’t enough.” This woman is not alone.

We need to stand up to these policies today. We need to not only end these people’s suffering, but also give them the opportunity to follow their hopes and dreams. These people cannot achieve anything while they are slaves to the welfare system or trapped in minimum wage jobs. Together, we can stop this enforced poverty and the system which causes it!

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