MADISON — Wisconsin's top health official told lawmakers Wednesday that 64,000 adults who lost food stamp benefits because they didn't meet a work requirement made a deliberate choice and "I don't think we kicked anybody off."
Department of Health Services Secretary Linda Seemeyer also refused to promise that the state's popular prescription drug program from seniors, SeniorCare, would continue beyond the current two-year budget. She made the comments during testimony before the Legislature's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.
Seemeyer's testimony came on the second of three days of budget briefings where lawmakers quiz members of Gov. Scott Walker's administration about the pending budget proposal. The public will get a chance to weigh in at six hearings next month before the budget committee begins taking votes in May.
Seemeyer was asked by Democratic Rep. Gordon Hintz, of Oshkosh, about the 64,000 people who lost their benefits under the state's food stamp program, FoodShare, since April 2015. That's when a state law took effect requiring childless adults to work at least 80 hours a month or lose benefits.
Seemeyer said those who didn't meet the work requirement "made a deliberate choice" and the state did not kick them off, even though they did lose benefits.
While 64,000 have lost their benefits the past two years, 21,000 able-bodied food stamp recipients have found work. Walker wants to expand a version of that work requirement to adults with children.
Seemeyer's comments about the state's SeniorCare program, which has broad bipartisan support, caught Democrats on the committee by surprise. Walker has twice since 2011 tried to require participants to first enroll for less generous benefits through Medicare Part D have been rejected.
But Seemeyer, after being asked by Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach about the program, refused to promise it would continue beyond the current budget which runs through June 2019.
"I would be irresponsible if I gave you a guarantee about something I don't know is going to happen in the future," she said.
Seemeyer, who took over as DHS secretary in August, also said the state should be rewarded for rejecting federal money to expand Medicaid "and we will continue to pound the drum." Walker turned down the Medicaid expansion money and instead took a hybrid approach to make sure everyone at poverty level or below was covered.
Democrats have repeatedly called on Walker to accept the expansion money, which totaled $690 million since 2014, but he's said that's too risky because the federal government can't be counted on to continue funding indefinitely.