Ellen Reese, Eric Vega, and Vincentas Rolandas Giedraitis



Welfare Is Not for Sale: Campaigns Against Welfare Profiteers in Milwaukee

In 1997, the state of Wisconsin contracted out to five private agencies the administration Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Works (W-2) program, which provides cash aid and social services to poor families (most of whom are headed by women). Milwaukee’s Private Industry Council was given oversight over the agencies, but it exercised this oversight very loosely. Advocates of neoliberalism claimed that private administration of public services would make them more efficient. The result, however, was a series of scandals involving the misuse of millions of dollars in welfare funds, kickbacks to a state politician, and the unfair denial of welfare to needy families. In response, unions, community groups, and welfare recipients organized a series of actions, calling for better regulation of, or the termination of, welfare contracts to private agencies. Despite steadfast state support for welfare privatization, activists managed to publicize contractors’ misdeeds, to gain federal and state support for increased regulation of these welfare contracts, and to pressure contractors to curb some of their worst abuses.

welfare privatization, U.S. welfare reform, resistance, Wisconsin Works, Milwaukee, multi-pronged strategy, social movements

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 33, No. 3 (2006): 38-53