Child Care and Welfare Reform: The Wisconsin Experience
John C. Weicher
I. The Process of Reform in Wisconsin
II. The Program: "Wisconsin Works" (W-2)
* No assistance without working for it
III. Child Care in W-2
Education & training count as work
* Four rungs on "Self-Sufficiency Ladder"
* Time limits
education, training, counseling
Community Service Jobs - public sector
Income: $628/month + Food Stamps
30-hour work week
Trial Jobs - private sector
Job training to meet private sector requirements
Income: $673/month + Food Stamps
Employer receives wage subsidy
Income: at least minimum wage + Food Stamps & EITC
Income: Market wage + EITC
24 month maximum per rung on lower 3 rungs
5 year maximum overall
* Available to age 12, for working households as well as welfare recipients
IV. Child Care Policy Issues
State regulation of all providers
Licensing for providers serving 4+ children
Certification for other providers
Rates set locally, by type of care & training
* Funding levels
Certified care reimbursement rate is 75% of licensed care rate, for
trained providers, 50% for those without training
Expected statewide average cost: $4800/year for licensed, $3360 for
$180 million under W-2 vs. $80 million in 1996
$79 million from Federal/state child care programs
$81 million from TANF
$20 million from state
190,000 children eligible
19,000 actual, currently
70% in licensed care
17,000 participants before W-2
* Child care is the only element of W-2 to be revised after passage
V. Resolving the issues: current policy
* Copayment: should it be income-conditioned, price-conditioned, or
none at all?
* Effective marginal tax rates: does family's cost of child care rise
with income, and if so, how fast?
* Quality: should family have incentives to purchase less costly care,
or should high-quality care be provided for all children?
* Income eligibility limit set at 165% of poverty
Family already in program remains eligible as income rises to 200%
* Copayment primarily income-based
Rises by 10-15 cents per dollar of additional income
* "Cliff" at 200% of poverty
Varies by type of care (higher for licensed care)
Does not vary with cost of care, within type
Can be no more than 16% of gross income (with 2 children)
Family loses over $5,000 of child care subsidies (with 2 children)
Child care suddenly takes 40 percent of disposable income
Standard of living falls by 20%
Family's likely reaction:
cheaper child care?
no child care?
one parent stays home?
Child care has been among the most politically controversial issues
in Wisconsin's welfare reform debate. The current outcome represents
a balance among competing views and interests. It is an improvement
on the original legislation, which phased out the state subsidy so rapidly
that families between the poverty line and the eligibility limit suffered
a decline in disposable income when they received a raise in wages.
However, in the new version families face a sharp increase in child care
cost and a reduction in disposable income when they exceed the eligibility
limit, at double the poverty line.
In the immediate future, this will probably not affect many families
currently on welfare, but it may affect working families who become eligible
for child care as a result of W-2.
Back to top