New Poverty Guidelines Shed Light on Health Policy Debates

Friday, February 3, 2017 at 6:43 PM by

Federal policy guidelines that were adjusted for inflation last week are worth examining because they help illustrate the challenges faced by low-income working families. They show, for example, that single parents with one child are currently ineligible for BadgerCare if they have a full-time job that pays more than $7.81 per hour!

The federal poverty guidelines are updated early each year, and the 2017 guidelines that were issued on January 31 increase the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) by 1.3%. That raises eligibility for many federal benefit programs, such as Medicaid, food stamps and child care subsidies. An updated table on the Wisconsin Budget Project website shows what the poverty level is for different family sizes and how that affects eligibility for different public benefits. It also translates the annual poverty level figures into monthly and hourly incomes. Read more

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Low-Paid Workers in Many Other States – but not Wisconsin – Got a Raise This Month

Wednesday, January 4, 2017 at 11:42 AM by

Low-paid workers across the country got a raise this month, as 19 states increased their minimum wages. A higher minimum wage means that workers will be better able to make ends meet and support their families, but the benefits don’t end there. More income in the pockets of workers translates to additional economic activity, and workers spend their raises at local businesses buying groceries, getting their cars fixed, or paying off medical bills.

The 19 states that increased their minimum wage this month are Massachusetts, Washington, California, New York, Arizona, Maine, Colorado, Alaska, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Michigan and Vermont.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin workers and communities will not receive any of the benefits of a higher minimum wage. Wisconsin is among the minority of states that have a minimum wage stuck at $7.25 per hour, a level that was last increased in 2009.

Most STates Have Higher Minimum Wage

Because Wisconsin is not among the states that have set a higher minimum wage, a full-time, full-year worker in Wisconsin still earn as little $14,500 per year. Read more

Judge’s Decision Puts Scope of Overtime Protections in Trump’s Hands

Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 1:04 PM by

Suspended Rule Change Would Benefit Nearly 1 in 4 Salaried Workers in Wisconsin

Low-wage workers who are required to work long hours deserve the protection of federal overtime laws. Unfortunately, a long-awaited federal rule change that would have extended overtime benefits to almost one fourth of salaried Wisconsin workers has been blocked and its fate is now in the hands of the incoming Trump administration.

The new overtime rule approved by the Labor Department was scheduled to take effect on December 1, but a November 22nd ruling by a district court judge in Texas put the rule in limbo. The judge’s injunction might enable the new president to kill the rule simply by not appealing that decision, rather than going through the lengthy rulemaking process that would otherwise be required to reverse or change the new rule.

The judge’s ruling maintains the current policy that says employers don’t have to pay overtime to salaried workers earning more than $23,660 per year ($455 per week) if they are classified in any of these three categories: executives, administrators, or professionals. Read more

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Voters Demonstrate Popularity of Minimum Wage Increases

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 10:41 AM by

Trump Owes It to Workers to Raise the Floor for Wages

The broad popular support for increasing the minimum wage was demonstrated quite clearly on November 8 when voters backed increases in all five states where the wage floor was on the ballot. President-elect Trump should back up his promises to help the working class by pushing for a significant boost in the national minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 per hour for almost eight years.

In Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, voters approved increases in their state minimum wages to $12 by 2020. Voters in Washington State went further by approving a measure to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020, and the electorate of Flagstaff Arizona approved an increase to $15 by 2021. The state-level ballot measures in Arizona and Washington also expand paid sick leave to more workers.

The increases in the pay floor were approved by significant percentages: 60% in Washington, 59% in Arizona, and 55% in both Colorado and Maine. Read more

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SNAP Works for Wisconsin’s Children

Thursday, October 13, 2016 at 8:54 AM by

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as FoodShare in Wisconsin, helps Wisconsin families put food on the table. But we know now that it accomplishes much more than that.

Research increasingly shows that SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, can ward against the long-term effects on children of experiencing poverty, abuse or neglect, parental substance abuse or mental illness, and exposure to violence — events that can take a toll on their well-being as adults.  As a new Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report finds, SNAP helps form a strong foundation of health and well-being for low-income children by lifting millions of families out of poverty, improving food security, and helping improve health and academic achievement with long-lasting consequences.

It’s doing all that across Wisconsin. SNAP is improving our children’s futures.

Workers at food banks see first-hand the boost that SNAP gives to children and families. “After a good job, SNAP is the second best hunger fighting tool in our toolbox,” said David Lee of Feeding Wisconsin. Read more

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Can You Hear Me Now? How about Now? Wisconsin Residents Again Voice Support for Raising Minimum Wage

Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 2:06 PM by

Half of Wisconsin residents support a very large increase in Wisconsin’s minimum wage that would more than double what the lowest-paid workers earn, according to a new Marquette University poll. Yet Wisconsin lawmakers have yet  to show any inclination they consider it a priority to make sure the lowest-paid workers in Wisconsin get a raise.

This isn’t the first time that Wisconsin residents have shown their support for increasing the minimum wage. In 2014, voters in 13 Wisconsin counties and cities had the opportunity to vote on a referendum asking lawmakers to raise the minimum wage – and every one of the referendums passed. Past polls by Marquette University have also shown that large majorities want the minimum wage raised.

What’s different about this poll is that it gauged support for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, more than double Wisconsin’s current minimum wage of $7.25. Past Marquette University polls asked about increasing the minimum to $10.10 per hour or did not identify a specific increase in the minimum wage. Read more

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Strong Income Gains in 2015, but Hold the Champagne

Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 5:12 PM by

Poverty Remains Well above Pre-recession Level, and Extreme Disparities Continue

In many respects, the national and Wisconsin data released today by the Census Bureau is much better than I dared hope for, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be popping any champagne corks today. A closer analysis of the data reveals that most Wisconsinites are still making less than they did before the Great Recession, and our state continues to have extreme economic disparities based on race. Read more

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Very Good Census Bureau News on Health Coverage, Income and Poverty

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 4:42 PM by

Uninsured Rate Declines Sharply Nationally and in Wisconsin

New data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau show that the federal health care reform law has been extremely effective in reducing the number of people who are uninsured, both nationally and here in Wisconsin. The new figures also bring very good news on national improvements relating to income and poverty.

The number of Wisconsinites who do not have health insurance fell sharply during the first two years of implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to the new data from the American Community Survey (ACS), 195,000 fewer Wisconsin residents were uninsured last year than in 2013, a decline of 37.6%.

The national ACS data show that the number of Americans without health insurance fell by more than a third from 2013 to 2015, and the percentage who are uninsured is now at an all-time low. That reflects a drop in the uninsured population of almost 7 million last year, on top of an improvement of about 8.5 million in 2014, when key parts of the health care reform law took effect. Read more

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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

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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

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