W-2 is Big Business


MILWAUKEE-Last month, I wrote an article about the outcome of the implementation of welfare reform (“W-2”) and the suffering it has wreaked throughout Wisconsin and particularly Milwaukee. This month I would like to attempt to unravel the tangled web that is W-2 and expose the big money forces behind it.

It comes as no surprise that the primary motive behind welfare reform is profit. The whole W-2 system is implemented and run by private agencies, which stand to make huge amounts of money off of welfare reform. Statewide in Wisconsin, W-2 agencies are projected to receive a total of 66 million in unrestricted profits, with 26 million going to agencies in Milwaukee County.

We, the people and taxpayers, have no say over how these profits should be spent. The private agencies are held accountable to no one. They are not required to document what they are using their profits for. Under this screwed-up system, the less effective an agency is, the more they stand to profit.

It’s called a “light-touch” policy, meaning: don’t ask, don’t tell. Agents are not allowed to tell the welfare recipients of benefits they are allowed to have unless directly asked by the recipient.

This means that a needy person who is in desperate need of assistance-whether food stamps, child care, or other services-will go without simply because they did not directly ask.

The outcome of this policy can be seen in statistics regarding child care. Of all applicants eligible for child-care assistance, only 15 percent receive it. That means that 85 percent of those eligible go without!

Most of the people in this program are lacking in job skills to begin with, and there is very minimal access to schooling beyond high school. As Gov. Tommy Thompson put it, “this is not a scholarship program.”

These people end up in low-wage, low-skill, dead-end jobs, right where the market needs them. There is a labor shortage for these types of jobs, and the labor provided by welfare recipients fills this gap nicely.

But the minute a recipient accepts a job, even if it is minimum-wage and part-time, they become ineligible for assistance.

Many of the people currently left on the welfare rolls and nearing the end of the two-year time limit for benefits come from situations of domestic violence or mental-health problems, or are in a position of caring for a disabled spouse or child.

One woman, who needs to care for one 18-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy and another six-year-old daughter, was told to put her disabled child in an institution and get to work. This is outrageous!

Another tactic used to maximize profits for the agencies is diversion. When you go to apply for assistance, they will ask you questions such has, “Have you asked your family for help?” “How about your church?” “Your ex-boyfriend?” “Your high school?” “Did you graduate high school?” “Why not?” and so on.

If you answer no, you are told to go back and do these things. If you you turned down a job because the wages and hours were not enough for you to live off of, you are reprimanded for not wanting to work and told to accept that job.

Even if you get past all the diversions they create, and get signed up for W-2 assistance, you won’t get a check for eight weeks-in which time you are allotted $100 emergency assistance to survive with. Many people grow frustrated and give up all together. Each time this happens, the agencies’ wallets get a little bit fatter.

Three out of four W-2 workers in Milwaukee County work within the Community Service and Transition Job categories. However, these workers receive no wages from their employers, just their welfare check plus support services.

What this comes down to is that these employers are being provided with free labor from the 10,000 W-2 workers.

In line with this, the PIC, or Private Industry Council, who are the people whose job it is to oversee the work of W-2 agencies, stands to directly benefit from the system. Within the PIC, we see such organizations as Aurora Health Care, Wisconsin Gas, Marcus Corporation, American Moving and Storage, Goodwill Industries, Rockwell Automation/Allen Bradley, and Pro-Staff.

Both the chief operating officer and the chair of the PIC have made campaign contributions to the governor. Meanwhile, Gov. Tommy Thompson is carving out a name for himself nationwide, and one can only speculate that he is hoping to move on to bigger and better things.

If you think these politicians and businesses in bed together care about the people they’re supposed to serve, you’re definitely and terribly wrong. They only care to see the money come pouring in at the expense of so many individual lives. We must put an end to this!

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