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Walker touts welfare reform package in River Falls

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Gov. Scott Walker, joined by Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, and Dick's Fresh Market founder Dick Rinehart, spoke to community members on hand for a bill signing at the store. Mike Longaecker / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Gov. Scott Walker said he was making good on his promise to deliver welfare reform when he signed three bills this week in River Falls.

The bills were part of a package of legislation the Republican governor signed during various stops around the state Tuesday, April 10.

"We looked at it in the fact that at 2.9 percent unemployment, we can't afford to have anybody on the sidelines," Walker said to a group of supporters and curious shoppers at Dick's Fresh Market. "We need everybody in the game."

The trio of bills he signed in River Falls included one requiring child-support compliance for Wisconsinites receiving Medicaid. Other measures he signed during stops in Wausau and Milwaukee generated more controversy, including work requirements for able-bodied people receiving public assistance and public housing.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said the legislative package will create more barriers for struggling families, accusing Republicans of "sticking it to working families, seniors and people with disabilities."

"Rather than creating barriers and driving more Wisconsin families into poverty, Democrats want to expand economic opportunities, grow our middle class and support strong economies," the La Crosse lawmaker said in a news release.

Walker dismissed the accusations as election-year rhetoric.

"She'll say just about anything in an election year," Walker said. "The reality is, if you look at this, these are exactly the sorts of things Tommy Thompson pushed years ago."

The legislation included an amendment championed by River Falls Assembly Republican Shannon Zimmerman that establishes a 10-month pilot program. The program offers incentives for people on the state's FoodShare program who buy fresh produce and healthy food.

The legislation received near-unanimous support when voted on as a standalone bill in November and passed along party lines in February after being attached to a larger bill calling for the Department of Children and Families to implement performance-based pay for Wisconsin Works and FoodShare contracts.

Acknowledging the controversy that surrounded some of the legislation in the package, Zimmerman called his amendment "the best part of it."

He said the legislation not only fosters a healthier diet for those in need, but also aggregates buying power for the state over time.

"It's a rarity when you can appeal to all parties involved," Zimmerman said.

Walker said the amendment is in keeping with the "good choices" he said the legislation fosters.

"What better way to take advantage of the whole life and not only get back in the workforce, but get on focus in a way to get you and your family in the position where you've got access to good healthy food to nurture and grow the family?" he said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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