Wisconsin Bill would Block Taxpayer-Funded Guaranteed Income Programs

A Republican-sponsored bill would block local communities in Wisconsin from using public money to bankroll guaranteed income programs.

Dozens of cities across the country have signed onto such programs, in which residents get recurring payments. Unlike other government subsidies, those payments are not restricted to specific uses like rent or food.

During a public hearing this week, state Rep. Amy Binsfeld, R-Sheboygan, pointed to Wisconsin’s low unemployment rate and argued guaranteed income discourages work.

“We should not be asking the taxpayers to fund another handout on top of the already taxpayer-funded benefits,” Binsfeld said. “We especially want to make sure that our labor force is getting the workers that they need and doesn’t have to continue to beg on top of these programs.”

Currently, Madison is the only Wisconsin city running a guaranteed income program. But Binsfeld says under the bill she introduced earlier this month, Madison’s project would still be allowed because the city’s yearlong pilot is funded by private donors.

Milwaukee city officials have raised the idea of a guaranteed income program. And, in 2021, the Wausau Common Council adopted a resolution to accept a $100,000 grant from Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, which would be used to test out guaranteed income in limited form.

But Wausau hasn’t yet submitted a plan for how such a program would work, Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg said. She said she’s waiting to see how Madison’s pilot works out.

“I was very nervous about people losing benefits that they already qualified for by getting this guaranteed income stipend,” Rosenberg said, adding that she doesn’t anticipate using public dollars for the project. “The Council was pretty clear that they weren’t interested in using any city funding for this.”

The Assembly bill, which has gained Republican co-sponsors in the GOP-controlled Senate, defines guaranteed income programs as “regular periodic cash payments that are unearned and that may be used for any purpose.”

The bill’s supporters have cited a referendum passed April 4 by nearly 80 percent of Wisconsin voters. That non-binding ballot measure asked Wisconsinites whether they agreed able-bodied childless adults should have to look for work in exchange for receiving “taxpayer-funded welfare benefits.”