Tommy Thompson: Human Services Reformer

ByABC News
December 20, 2000, 12:50 PM

— -- Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson is widely regarded as the man who invented welfare reform.

An outspoken Midwestern governor and a Wisconsin powerhouse politician for 13 years, Thompson is considered a Republican leader on welfare reform and school choice, and a natural fit for the Health and Human Services spot. He is seen as a no nonsense politician able to execute his innovative health care and welfare reform ideas into policy. He will also help Bush reach out to Democrats: As governor of an industrial and traditionally Democratic state, he successfully brought Democrats into decisions at every turn.

Thompsons W-2 program (Wisconsin Works) was the first welfare reform program in the country that insisted able-bodied welfare recipients had to find work. It made welfare recipients adhere to time limits. Thompson added to the W-2 large dollops of money to pay for training, transport, health care and child care. Thompson raised state subsidies for childcare from $12 million to over $150 million.

Since the formation of W-2, the number of Wisconsin families receiving welfare declined from 100,000 to 8,000.

Not Without His Critics

But Thompson is not without his critics. His welfare reforms have been called old school conservative politics that hurt the poor and help the rich, particularly the abolishment of the states Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.

The reforms punish poor children most, said Gerald McEntee,president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO.

The programs success has not been fully measured, critics said. What happens to the remaining recipients, many of whom have few if any skills to get jobs remains to be seen, said Kelly Bablitch, a policy analyst for W-2 critic Sen. Gwendolynne Moore, D-Milwaukee.

No Easy Pass

Once in office Bush may find he wont get an easy pass with Thompson at his side.