MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin officials hope a new incentive plan will trim participation in the state's welfare-to-work program, which has seen an increase in enrollment despite predictions that fewer poor people would need its assistance.
The program is called Wisconsin Works, or W-2, and provides financial assistance to low-income people who are trying to find work.
Nearly 15,000 people were in the program last month, far more than the 11,452 per month predicted in the current 2011-13 budget, the Wisconsin State Journal reported (http://bit.ly/12b6yZR ). If participation remains at its current rate, the program would run a deficit of about $37 million, according to an analysis by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families
The upcoming 2013-15 state budget, which lawmakers in the Assembly began debating Tuesday, projects a 1 percent decline in participation each month from April 2013 to June 2015. However, those projections are already wrong.
Figures reported by the Department of Children and Families show participation rose 3.9 percent in April and 2.2 percent in May.
DCF Secretary Eloise Anderson said the budget projections actually anticipated a short-term jump in participation due to changes introduced in January.
"Over time, our view, given what we've put in place in program incentives, you will see a decline in the number of people on the caseload," Anderson said.
Those changes include an initial cash payment for program participants who stay on a job for 31 days and a second payment for staying employed for four months. There are also cash incentives for people who earn a promotion and higher pay, which would eventually help people leave the program.
State officials said the incentives could help prevent situations where people take jobs, receive a payment and then quit a few days later.
The proposed state budget projects that enrollment will drop from 14,518 in March of this year, to 11,068 in June 2015. It would also provide $82 million for W-2 funding in the first year and $73 million in the second year, down from the current $85 million.
If there's any funding shortfall, the Department of Children and Families might have to make additional changes, said Jon Peacock, a research director with the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. Those options could include imposing an enrollment cap, changing eligibility rules or trying to siphon funding from other state programs.