Advocates, National Experts Disagree on W-2

National welfare experts give Wisconsin's welfare-to-work program good reviews, saying it's better than similar programs in other states and has moved people into jobs.

But an Associated Press review finds that, eight years into the program, advocates for the poor say Wisconsin Works, or W-2, has not helped people achieve economic self-sufficiency.

They point to shortcomings revealed in an audit released last month by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, which noted that the program has cost one and a half (b) billion dollars from its start through last June.

The audit found that only about 20 percent of former participants earned more than the poverty level in the year after they left the program. Also, more than half the people in the program in June had been on it before, left for a job and had to come back for more help.

W-2 requires adults to work in community service jobs or get job training in exchange for monthly cash benefits of up to 673 dollars, for up to five years.

Charity Eleson is executive director for the group Wisconsin Children and Families ... and she says for W-2 to be a success, it should lead most of the families out of poverty, but the audit shows it's not doing that.

One of W-2's authors, Republican state Representative John Gard, says the audit shows the program meets its objective of being a work-based, temporary assistance for needy people -- just what the Legislature intended it to be.

Roberta Gassman heads the state department that oversees W-2 ... and she says the audit pointed out areas state officials have been working to improve, like finding better ways to get participants connected to work activities and employers.