FoodShare helps approximately 840,000 low-income individuals and families in Wisconsin purchase food. In 2014, women accounted for 55% and children accounted for 41% of the program’s recipients. FoodShare also provides assistance to legal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for less than five years and meet all eligibility criteria.
Adults ages 18-49 without a dependent child must either meet a work requirement or be found exempt from the work requirement to continue getting FoodShare benefits. To help meet this requirement, individuals currently receiving FoodShare benefits can participate in the newly created FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program, a free program that helps individuals build job skills and find employment opportunities.
The 2013-2015 budget allocated $31 million to FoodShare over the biennium and also implemented new work requirements for able-bodied adult recipients between the ages of 18-49. Some of funding paid for 40 new administrative positions to staff the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program, which was created in the 2013-2015 budget.
The proposed budget increases funding for the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program to reflect its statewide expansion beginning on April 1, 2015. The administration estimates that approximately 133,400 individuals will be subject to the new FoodShare work requirement over the 2015-2017 biennium, and that 50% (66,700) individuals will sign up for the FSET program as a result.
The budget also requires the Department of Health Services (DHS) to request a waiver from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) that would authorize DHS to screen and, if indicated, drug test FSET participants. See the section on Drug Testing for our analysis of this provision.
The statewide expansion of the FSET program and employment requirements for food stamps will negatively affect low income Wisconsin women by limiting their access to funding for healthy foods if they are unable to find employment. Approximately 62,700 Wisconsinites who currently receive FoodShare benefits are unemployed and will be at risk of being disenrolled from the program. According to the Hunger Task Force, mandating work for FoodShare benefits will not create employment and will only result in increased reliance on emergency food sources as current FoodShare participants are forced off of the program.
The proposed drug testing of FSET participants may also increase hunger in Wisconsin as participants drop out of the program. FoodShare benefits can only be used to purchase food. Depriving an individual or family of food does not treat any kind of drug addiction, but instead makes the family more vulnerable and less healthy (see Drug Testing section).
Food stamp programs like Wisconsin’s FoodShare are particularly important for women as they are twice as likely as men to receive food stamps at some point during their lives. By limiting FoodShare participation with mandatory drug testing and employment requirements for childless adults, Governor Walker’s proposed budget is putting more Wisconsin women at risk of being food insecure.