Parents with disabilities or health limitations often time out of the program or end up on disability insurance
The government’s cash assistance program for low-income parents in Wisconsin is called Wisconsin Works, or W-2.
The number of parents receiving such assistance fluctuates over time, largely in step with the strength of the economy. Over the past 15 years, it has ranged from slightly more than 30,000 right after the Great Recession to approximately 12,000 in 2019. But no matter what the specific number, there is increasing evidence that too many recipients never benefit from the virtues of work.
Low-income W-2 parents who struggle in the labor market because of disabilities or health limitations are a particular concern. Called the W-2 Transition population, they are the focus of this report. This group has included as many as 9,750 low-income parents who received W-2 cash assistance in 2004 to as few as 3,171 in 2019.
These parents face unique challenges to employment, but many of them have the capacity to work and can travel a path to economic security with the right assistance.
While pinpointing exact numbers is difficult due to data limitations, the findings suggest that many of these W-2 Transition parents are not currently gaining employment and are instead leaving W-2 Transition because of program time limits or disability assistance receipt.
This trend does not bode well for Wisconsin’s low-income parents with disabilities and health limitations, nor for their children. Employment is the surest path
out of poverty, and people with disabilities and health limitations have the ability and desire to work. This report recommends ways that the State of Wisconsin can better serve this vulnerable group of Wisconsin families that, history shows, is too often left trapped in poverty, dependent on the government and unable to support themselves or their families. The most important recommendations include:
- The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) should collaborate with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to give low-income parents with disabilities or health limitations seeking W-2 assistance access to vocational rehabilitation expertise and services.
- The DCF should include a review of W-2 Transition’s SSI/SSDI advocate program as part of this restructuring, assessing whether it unnecessarily compels work-capable parents on W-2 to remain idle awaiting disability benefits.
- Also as part of this restructuring, the DCF should implement the 48-month W-2 time limit passed into law by the state Legislature in 2015, with the goal of moving W-2 Transition parents into sustainable employment within four years of entering the program.
- Wisconsin should develop a data infrastructure to track employment and disability outcomes for W-2 parents after they leave the program as a way to assess program effectiveness.