Five years after Wisconsin instituted Wisconsin Works (W-2) – one of the strictest welfare replacement programs in the U.S. – W-2 remains one of the primary models for welfare policy reform across the nation. However, in various assessments of W-2, the substantial change in the racial and ethnic demographics of the caseload has been largely overlooked. Wisconsin’s AFDC programs historically served a significant proportion of white participants, but the under W-2, majority of the state caseload now is made up of people of color. This suggests that there may be a disparity in the impact of the program that is linked to participants’ racial or ethnic identity. Discrepancies in the level of support for families could alter the level of success clients have in achieving self-sufficiency.
One feature of the W-2 program is a significant shift to provider and caseworker discretion in the provision of support services. Case-managers make numerous decisions that determine what supports and services families will receive and what they must do in return. These decisions include whether to allow a family to enroll in W-2, what placement the family will receive, what kinds of education and supervised work activity to assign, and whether a family loses benefits because of absences from assigned work activity. In order to determine if service levels are affected by ethnicity or race, this report examines data from the Department of Workforce Development on the use of sanctions against W-2 participants to see if there is a differential in the rate of sanctions against Hispanic, African-American and white clients. If disparities do, in fact, exist, it would suggest that similar discrepancies in other services are occurring which would negatively impact participants ability to secure skills and support needed to leave the program and function independently.