Block Grant’s Flexibility for States = Less Support for Families

Friday, August 19, 2016 at 2:24 PM by

Taking a Look at TANF on its 20th Anniversary

The welfare reform block grant program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) turns 20 on August 22nd, and that anniversary is not a cause for celebration among advocates for low-income families. Some conservatives have also criticized it, such as Peter Germanis, who wrote that TANF “has failed to provide an adequate safety net or an effective welfare-to-work program.”

The block grant gives states a lot more flexibility, but also significantly less funding and a lot less accountability, and the result has been a sharp decline in support for the families that the federal funds are supposed to assist. The following graph illustrates that the number of Wisconsin families who are receiving direct cash assistance – either for child-only cases or for participation in work programs under Wisconsin Works (W-2) – has dropped to a monthly average of less than 18,700 this year. Read more

Wisconsin Undercuts its Own Success in Improving Child Care Quality

Thursday, August 18, 2016 at 1:49 PM by

Wisconsin’s commitment to affordable child care for working families has waned in recent years, making it more difficult for child care providers to work towards improving the quality of child care, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

Many parents with low incomes wouldn’t be able to afford to work without the child care subsidies provided through the Wisconsin Shares program. In 2015, Wisconsin Shares served 46,000 children each month, on average. But the number of children served by Wisconsin Shares has fallen considerably in the past few years, declining 21% between 2008 and 2015. The decline in rural areas has been the most severe.

The smaller the county, the greater the drop in children served

There has been an even steeper decline in payments to child care providers over this period, with payments dropping by 36% since 2008. Payment rates have been nearly frozen over this period, meaning that inflation has chipped away at the amounts paid to providers, and the state has implemented policies that result in lower payments to providers. Read more

The Teacher Pay Penalty is Bigger than Ever

Monday, August 15, 2016 at 8:00 AM by

Public school teachers earn significantly less than comparable workers – and the gap is growing wider, making it more difficult to attract new teachers to the profession.

Nationally, public school teachers earned 17.0% less per week worked than other workers in 2015, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. That wage gap has tripled since 1979, when the wage gap was 5.6% between teachers and other workers. The analysis controls for age, education, race/ethnicity, geographical region, marital status, and gender.

In Wisconsin, the wage gap means that public school teachers earn $229 per week less than other workers with the same level of education. Teachers earn less than other college graduates in every state in the U.S.

Teachers earn less than other college graduates

Teachers not in a union face a larger wage penalty than teachers in a union, according to the report.

When benefits are included, teachers still earn less than other workers: 11.1% less per week worked. Read more

Wisconsin’s Public Sector Comes with a Low Cost, Compared to Other States

Monday, August 8, 2016 at 8:12 AM by

Wisconsin is leaner in most types of public sector jobs than all but a few other states, according to a review of employment figures by Governing.

Only three states have fewer public workers working in areas other than education than Wisconsin, according to the analysis. For every 10,000 state residents, Wisconsin has 199 public non-education employees. That’s less than half the number of public employees per population in Wyoming, which had the most public employees for its population size, and 50% less than the number of public employees per population in New York, Mississippi, and Alaska. Only three states had a smaller number of public employees than Wisconsin for their population size.

Wisconsin also ranked relatively low in payroll costs. For every $100,000 in personal income, Wisconsin governments spent $202 in March 2014 for non-education public employees. Only 11 states have lower payroll costs as a share of personal income. Read more

Categories: Blog, public employees, STATE BUDGET | Comments Off on Wisconsin’s Public Sector Comes with a Low Cost, Compared to Other States

Critics Use Wrong Yardstick to Measure Safety Net’s Success

Thursday, August 4, 2016 at 9:15 AM by

Anti-poverty Programs Lift about 830,000 Wisconsinites above Poverty Line

Speaker Ryan and other conservatives are calling for sweeping changes that would seriously weaken safety net programs, and a core argument for those changes is way off the mark.

In early June, Ryan and other House Republicans issued a report about reforming public assistance programs that contends that despite decades of substantial federal spending for safety net programs, “the official poverty rate in 2014 (14.8%) was no better than it was in 1966 (14.7%), when many of these programs started.”

At first blush, that sounds like a compelling argument, but it’s a red herring. Speaker Ryan’s claim is based on the official poverty measure, which seems logical.  But that gauge of poverty, established by the Census Bureau in the 1960s, measures cash income only and excludes many forms of public assistance.  As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out about this poverty measure: 

“…it ignores virtually all anti-poverty assistance created or expanded over the past half century, while counting the main form of assistance cut sharply over this period – cash assistance for families with children.

Read more
Categories: Blog, ECONOMIC SECURITY, EITC, FEDERAL BUDGET & TAXES, food stamps, poverty, refundable tax credits, TANF | Comments Off on Critics Use Wrong Yardstick to Measure Safety Net’s Success

Governor’s Statements Give Hints of What’s to Come in Next Budget

Tuesday, August 2, 2016 at 12:18 PM by

Governor Walker’s public statements and his instructions to state agencies on how to develop their proposals for Wisconsin’s next state budget give some glimpses into what the state’s 2017-19 budget might bring.

Wisconsin has a two-year budget. The process of deciding what to include in the budget starts in the summer of even numbered years — in other words, now — when the Governor instructs state agencies how to develop budget requests. Agencies submit their requests to the Governor in September, and the Governor takes the requests into consideration when developing his own budget proposal to submit to the Legislature. The Governor is expected to release his budget proposal in the early part of 2017. (For more about the Wisconsin state budget cycle, check the Wisconsin Budget Project’s Budget Toolkit.)

For the upcoming budget, Governor Walker has instructed state agencies to assume there will be zero growth in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) appropriations. Read more

Categories: 2017-19 biennial budget, Blog, Medicaid, STATE BUDGET | Comments Off on Governor’s Statements Give Hints of What’s to Come in Next Budget

Mortgage Lending Patterns in Milwaukee Reinforce Segregated Poverty

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 9:15 AM by

White residents of the Milwaukee metropolitan area have significant more access to mortgage lending than black and Hispanic residents, according to a new report that highlights how lending patterns affect different communities.

Whites represent 70% of the population in the Milwaukee area, according to the report from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, yet received 81% of the mortgage loans made in 2014. African Americans are 16% of the population but received only 4% of the loans. Hispanics represent nine percent of the area’s population, and received four percent of the total loans. The Milwaukee metropolitan area includes Milwaukee County as well as Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee Counties.


Milwaukee-area residents of color are less likely than whites to apply for a mortgage in the first place, and they are less likely to have their application approved. Lenders approved 71% of mortgages sought by white residents of the Milwaukee area in 2014, compared to 47% for black residents, 59% for Hispanic residents, and 66% for Asian residents. Read more

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Low-Paid Workers in Several Locations Get a Raise – But Not in Wisconsin

Thursday, July 7, 2016 at 12:50 PM by

Low-paid workers in various locations across the country got a raise this month, as increases in the minimum wage took effect in several states, counties, and cities. However, workers in Wisconsin were not among those benefitting from an increase in the minimum wage.

Locations with increases in the minimum wage include:

  • Oregon, where the minimum wage increased to $9.75 per hour in urban counties and $9.50 in rural counties. The minimum will gradually increase to $12.50 to $14.75 depending on the county in 2022.
  • Maryland, where the lowest-paid hourly workers now earn at least $8.75 an hour. Maryland’s minimum wage is set to slowly increase to $10.10 in 2018.
  • Los Angeles, where low-paid workers will now get at least $10.50 an hour – and six days of paid leave a year. The minimum wage in Los Angeles is set to increase gradually to $15 per hour in 2020.
  • Chicago, where workers will now earn at least $10.50 an hour.
Read more
Categories: Blog, ECONOMIC SECURITY, minimum wage | Comments Off on Low-Paid Workers in Several Locations Get a Raise – But Not in Wisconsin

Lower-than-Expected Medicaid Spending Offers Relief and Opportunity

Tuesday, July 5, 2016 at 7:44 PM by

Reduced Participation Provides Opportunity and Reason to Streamline Enrollment Procedures

Members of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee got some very good news last Friday in the form of a quarterly report on the state Medicaid budget from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS).  The letter from the interim Secretary of DHS indicates that the agency now estimates that Medicaid spending during the 2015-17 biennium will be $418.6 million below the amount lawmakers anticipated when they passed the budget bill a year ago.

The portion of Medicaid spending specifically from state General Purpose Revenue (GPR) is projected to be almost $176 million (3.1%) less than the budget bill set aside. That’s an improvement of $90.6 million GPR since the last projection was made three months ago.

These numbers from DHS are very good news at a time when state revenue projections haven’t been very good. The reduced growth in Medicaid spending improves the prospects for keeping the total state budget in the black – without resorting to additional remedial measures (beyond the delay in debt payments that the Governor already implemented). Read more

Categories: 2015-17 biennial budget, BadgerCare Plus, Blog, Medicaid, spending | Comments Off on Lower-than-Expected Medicaid Spending Offers Relief and Opportunity

Runaway Tax Cut a Windfall for Millionaires

Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 7:45 AM by

A new tax break that has cost much more than originally anticipated has resulted in enormous tax breaks for the very wealthiest, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Budget Project.

The Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit nearly wipes out state income tax liability for manufacturers and agricultural producers in Wisconsin, with most of the money winding up in the pockets of millionaires. Tax filers with incomes of $1 million and more – a group that makes up just 0.2% of all filers – claim a remarkable 78% of the credit amount that is paid through the individual income tax. Filers in that income group receive an average estimated tax break of nearly $28,000. That stands in sharp contrast to the average tax cut for filers with incomes of under $250,000: just $4.

Tax break is a windfall for millionaires

Other than millionaires, few people in Wisconsin get any value from this tax break. Among filers with incomes of $1 million and more, 1 out of every 4 tax filers receives the credit. Read more