Magazine article The American Enterprise

A Tale of Two States

Magazine article The American Enterprise

A Tale of Two States

Article excerpt

When Congress enacted welfare reform legislation that President Clinton finally signed in 1996, it abolished the federal welfare entitlement to cash benefits. Recognizing the incredibly destructive consequences that this entitlement program had wrought, Congress directed each of the 50 states to design its own program to replace welfare with workfare.

Demographically, few states resemble each other more closely than Minnesota and Wisconsin. Each has a population of roughly 5 million, each is dominated by a single metropolitan area, and each has a long-standing progressive political tradition. But in their welfare reforms, no two states have taken paths more divergent.

Before the late 1980s, Minnesota and Wisconsin had similar welfare programs. In 1986, however, Wisconsin's welfare caseload peaked at over 100,000 families. That year, Tommy Thompson was elected governor on a platform that focused on welfare reform.

By the early 1990s, Wisconsin had secured waivers from the federal government that allowed the state to impose work requirements in selected counties as a condition of receiving welfare benefits. By 1996, these reforms were applied to all counties. (Disabled adults remain covered under a separate program without a work requirement.)

Wisconsin enforces its work requirements by denying benefits to able-bodied adults who refuse to work, cutting benefits to the extent that recipients fail to show up for their jobs, and providing community service jobs as a last resort. Under Governor Thompsoffs reforms, the number of Wisconsin families receiving welfare has dropped from its high of more than 100,000 to only 10,185 by the end of 1998, a 90 percent decline.

Minnesota's version of welfare reform, the "Minnesota Family Investment Program" (MFIP), was implemented on January 1, 1998, and provides a clear contrast, beginning with its premises. …

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