Much has been written about the wars waged between states to attract new jobs. A similar war is being waged in welfare reform. Some states keep welfare benefits low so that some of their residents will move to more socially responsible states.
This is the case between Wisconsin and Illinois. Wisconsin pays a family of three $517 monthly in Aid for Families with Dependent Children welfare benefits; Illinois pays $342.Studies have shown that since 1986 nearly one-third of new welfare cases in Wisconsin recently moved here from other states. Of the total number of new welfare recipients who moved to Wisconsin in the past three years, almost 30 percent were from neighboring Illinois. Most settle in the southeast part of the state, in five counties near the Illinois border.
Higher benefits are not the only reason people move to Wisconsin, but it is a major factor. And we are suffering the consequences.
As more new residents go on welfare, work and training programs are increasingly strained. Wisconsin is also experiencing a growing strain on its schools and juvenile correction facilities, an increase in gang-related crime and housing shortages. There also is an increased demand for already overextended social service programs such as out-patient treatment for alcohol and drug abuse.
But who's really to blame for Wisconsin's predicament? The United States Congress.
When Congress passed the Family Support Act of 1987, many viewed it as the first major overhaul of the nation's welfare system in 25 years, one that would result in welfare recipients leaving the welfare roles for meaningful employment. Congress, however, ignored one of the major problems with the Aid for Families with Dependent Children program - it does nothing to correct the disparities in state benefit levels.
In an effort to resolve this situation, I have proposed state legislation to set Aid for Families with Dependent Children benefits for new residents at the level granted in their home state for their first six months in Wisconsin. Wisconsin benefit levels would apply after the person had resided in Wisconsin for six months.
Those who oppose my proposal to set welfare payments for new residents at the level they received in their home state should focus their efforts on increasing benefits in states like Mississippi and Alabama. There, Aid for Families with Dependent Children benefits are so low - $120 and $118 respectively - that a family cannot even afford basic necessities.
In addition, they should apply pressure at the Federal level to establish uniform benefit levels for each state. Low benefit states must accept responsibility, as Wisconsin has, for building social programs to enable people to rise out of poverty.