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At the beginning of the pandemic, Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services (DHS) waived numerous requirements to participate in the state’s food-aid program. Now, some lawmakers want to reinstate those conditions.

Before COVID, many people in Wisconsin’s FoodShare program had to meet certain work-search requirements.

Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, lead sponsor of a bill to reinstating those provisions, said ending the waiver could help address worker shortages.

“Employers are desperate for workers, and so we are trying to get every able-bodied individual that we can off of the sidelines and back in the workforce,” Testin asserted.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate hit a record low of 2.8% in December, the lowest rate in at least two decades. Some social-justice and hunger-fighting groups oppose the bill, saying it would restrict access to important resources while many people are still feeling the pandemic’s financial impact.

The measure also would reinstate an 80-hour-per-month work requirement for childless, able-bodied adults. The DHS counts participation in a work-search program or other job-training initiative toward the 80-hour requirement.

Stephanie Jung Dorfman, executive director of Feeding Wisconsin, told a legislative committee last week the requirements fail to address underlying challenges folks face when looking for work.

“Mandating work requirements, especially as we’re still recovering from the pandemic, does not address the real challenges that many of our neighbors face when trying to engage in the labor and training market; such as access to accessible, affordable and quality child care and transportation,” Jung Dorfman contended.

The bill also would require FoodShare applicants to submit to drug testing and, if they test positive, to receive treatment. According to the DHS website, even without action from lawmakers, the food-aid waiver is set to expire at the end of September.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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