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Tommy Thompson on Welfare & Poverty

Former Secretary of H.H.S.; former Republican Governor (WI)


Converted welfare into work-required benefit

Thompson was given a Mostly True for saying that while he was governor, "we ended welfare." His W-2 program didn't eliminate every program that might be considered a handout. But it did end the entitlement program most commonly known as welfare, replacing it with one that requires nearly all recipients to work for their benefits.
Source: FactCheck.org on 2012 Wisc. Senate debate , Sep 27, 2012

Replace welfare program with self-sufficiency program

[The “Wisconsin Works” program, known as “W-2”] replaced AFDC. It is an employment program rather than a welfare program. It requires those “who can work to get a job and those who cannot to contribute according to their abilities.” The old system showered recipients with all the welfare benefits possible, thus encouraging dependency. Wisconsin Works uses resourceful financial and employment planners who will help program participants. Planners can provide emergency loans for employment-related needs. W-2 provides participants with child care, health care, transportation and training. February 2000 figures show the W-2 caseload is under 6,700 families. That’s a reduction of 80% since W-2 started.
Source: WI Governor’s website , Jan 8, 2001

Replace Welfare with the Tools to Succeed

Gov. Thompson made building our people - particularly the poor - an important priority. Frustrated that generations of families were being locked in a welfare trap, Thompson embarked on welfare reform in 1987, long before it became a major national issue

Before starting, Thompson invited groups of welfare mothers to his home for luncheon discussions on what locked them into welfare and what was needed to free them from the trap. The most commonly cited barriers to leaving welfare were inadequate child care, health care, transportation and training - four elements that became the foundation for the governor’s reform programs.

Since 1987, Thompson has instituted many welfare reform programs and initiatives that have combined to reduce Wisconsin’s welfare caseload by more than any state in the nation.

Since 1987, Wisconsin has cut its welfare caseload by more than 93%, from 98,000 AFDC families in January 1987 to under 6,700 W-2 cash assistance families in February 2000.

Source: Wisconsin Governor’s web site , Dec 25, 2000

Early leader in welfare reform

Wisconsin was so far ahead in its reforms that Gov. Thompson ended welfare and the AFDC entitlement check altogether and replaced it with a new program based on work called Wisconsin Works, better known as W-2. This program is now the standard for welfare reform in America.
Source: Wisconsin Governor’s web site , Dec 25, 2000

1950s common sense taught by families, schools, & churches

Everyone has his or her own common sense. Mine is rooted in the values I learned by growing up in the small Wisconsin community of Elroy.

In the 1940s and 1950s, people in Elroy generally have a positive view of the federal government, but we didn't have much contact with it in our everyday lives. We were a self-sufficient community. We didn't need Washington or anyone else to tell us to work hard, support our families, and look after our neighbors. Our families, schools, and churches taught us that, and the tightness of the community reinforced those fundamental values. You would have found the same was true in countless towns and big-city neighborhoods throughout America.

We've lost a good part of that self-reliance and sense of community in America today.

Source: Power to the People, by Tommy Thompson, p. 16-17 , Sep 1, 1996

Scrap federal welfare & let states experiment freely

My experience with Washington and the reforms we've implemented in Wisconsin leads me to one overwhelming conclusion. The only real solution to the welfare mess is to scrap the current federal system and allow states to experiment freely with new approaches that will work best for them. Finding effective alternatives to a program that has been in place for more than sixty years is not easy. Washington is not suited for that. After three generations of tinkering with welfare, Washington must now get out of the way and let America's laboratories of democracy create innovative and flexible solutions that will work in each and every state in our diverse nation.

In fact, REFORM is the wrong word because it suggests adjusting the current system to make it work better. It doesn't work. Welfare as we know it is fundamentally and unalterably destructive.

Source: Power to the People, by Tommy Thompson, p. 37 , Sep 1, 1996

Learnfare: teen mothers welfare cut unless attending school

Learnfare generated a lot of controversy--no other state in the nation had tried it. When I first proposed my budget, I had wanted Learnfare to include all teens, but was persuaded by staff that this would be too much too soon. The Democrats would block it as too "radical." So my initial outline limited the program to teen mothers on welfare who had dropped out of school. The proposal was very simple. If a teen mother dropped out of school or did not attend regularly, her monthly welfare check would be reduced until she attended school regularly. I broadened the proposal to include all families on welfare. If any teen between the ages of thirteen and nineteen dropped out, the family's monthly check would be reduced. Wisconsin liberals were outraged.
Source: Power to the People, by Tommy Thompson, p. 45 , Sep 1, 1996

1992: Washington couldn't end welfare as we knew it; WI did

When he was campaigning for president in1992, Bill Clinton also said he wanted to end welfare as we know it. We watched that get chewed up in the machinery of Washington. It was a nice promise. In Wisconsin, not only did we end welfare as we knew it, we ended it altogether. Washington couldn't make it happen--but a state could! The fifty laboratories of democracy are working every day to solve problems with new ideas. And Washington is starting to take note. It can't help but see. More important, people are feeling the difference--there's so much that can be achieved at the state level, even at the community level, that Washington will never figure out.
Source: Power to the People, by Tommy Thompson, p.204 , Sep 1, 1996

No government handouts; demand something in return

The welfare system is a perfect example of what I refer to as government sense. When you pay people not to work, not to get married, and to have children out of wedlock, guess what happens? People do not work, they do not get married, and they have more children out of wedlock.

Handing out a welfare check and expecting nothing in return is not public assistance, it is public apathy - “Here is your check, see you next month.” So while Washington stood around and talked about how welfare needed to be changed, we in the states-I started in 1986-started doing something about it. We started offering hope and opportunity along with the welfare check and expecting certain responsibilities in return. We put common sense reforms in place. We required young men and women up to age 19 to go to school; and in the case of chronic truants, we took away that portion of the welfare check attributable to that young man or woman. Some opponents said, “What if they don’t want to go to school?” And I said, “Tough.”

Source: United We Stand America Conference, p.205-6 , Aug 12, 1995

Supports block grants to foster state experimentation

Now I am undertaking the most radical program I have ever done in welfare-we are eliminating it. We did away with the welfare department and turned it into a jobs department. Everyone has to do something in order to receive a check.

In order to accomplish these things we had to go to Washington and kiss someone’s ring to say, “Please give us a chance to try something that might work.” I have had waivers under Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Why should states need waivers to try innovative ideas in welfare? Why should we have to go to Washington and kiss somebody’s ring to do what everybody wants us to do and that is to change welfare in our society and give people jobs and hope and optimism

That is why I am fighting for the government to block grant welfare funding back to the States.

Source: United We Stand America Conference, p.207-8 , Aug 12, 1995

Support LIHEAP, low-income heating assistance.

Thompson signed the Midwestern Governors' Conference resolution:

Source: Resolution of Midwestern Governors' Conf. on LIHEAP 00-MGC2 on May 25, 2000

Supports workfare.

Thompson supports the CC Voters Guide question on workfare

Christian Coalition publishes a number of special voter educational materials including the Christian Coalition Voter Guides, which provide voters with critical information about where candidates stand on important faith and family issues. The Christian Coalition Voters Guide summarizes candidate stances on the following topic: "Requiring welfare recipients to work or get job training"

Source: Christian Coalition Voter Guide 12-CC-q20 on Oct 31, 2012

  • Click here for definitions & background information on Welfare & Poverty.
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Page last updated: Jul 13, 2013