WisCAP Community Action News

Innovative Southwest CAP Program Helps Overcome Language Barriers to Self-Sufficiency

An innovative program operated by the Southwest Community Action Program is having impressive results helping local residents learn English as a second language.

The Southwest Wisconsin Multicultural Outreach Program run by Southwest CAP is helping individuals who can’t speak English overcome barriers keeping them from achieving economic self-sufficiency. Southwest CAP is the designated Community Action Agency serving Richland, Grant, Iowa, Lafayette and Green Counties.

Instruction is primarily done one-on- one in homes, but it also occurs in bigger groups at community churches, libraries and the like. The privately-funded program was launched in Iowa County five years ago as the Hispanic population continued to increase in the area. The program now includes Grant, Lafayette and Richland Counties. Continue Reading

Wisconsin’s FoodShare Work Rules: We Can Do Better

Last week’s report from the Department of Health Services announcing that over 41,000 able-bodied single adults lost access to food stamps in the past 12 months, while nearly 12,000 individuals found jobs through the program, brings into stark focus a fundamental question of what kind of a state do we want to be and what kind of a people we are.

Since April of 2015, all able-bodied adults without children living at home have been required to work at least 80 hours a month – or look for work or participate in training programs – as a condition of receiving food stamps under the FoodShare program. Since July, more than one-half of the eligible FoodShare recipients have been dropped from the program for failing to meet these requirements, according to DHS data, as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal.

We would be the last to speak in opposition to those 12,000 individuals who found work. We feel strongly that the best tool to fighting poverty is a good paying job and this is good news. Walker Administration officials and legislators who supported this work requirement, understandably, were outspoken in their praise for this job component of FoodShare, calling the program a true success.

But it needs to be asked: Do we really want to praise a program when 3 times the number of individuals who found jobs are going more hungry tonight as a result of that very same program? Is that something we really want to call a success?

It is easy to stereotype people in poverty and we would not be surprised if there were many who are saying “If people aren’t willing to work, then they shouldn’t be getting assistance.” In reality, however, the issue is not even close to being that simple. Many of those 41,000 live in areas of the state where jobs are either not available or accessible or for which they lack qualifications. Many may not have understood the rules. Based on our network’s collective fifty year history working with this population, we believe that the vast majority of those successful in obtaining jobs through the program would have done so even without the threat of losing their FoodShare benefits. It has been our experience that the vast majority of low-income individuals do not voluntarily choose to be in poverty. None of us would voluntarily choose that life; why would we think those actually afflicted by poverty would be any different?

As a result of these new work requirements for FoodShare, the lives of 12,000 individuals are demonstrably better – but the lives of 41,000 individuals are demonstrably worse. Isn’t there a better way to reach the goal of good paying jobs we all profess to seek, one that doesn’t create this level of distress?

One mark of a civilized society – and of the decency of its governments – is its commitment to ensuring the basics of life: food, shelter and clothing. When we use access to food as a cudgel for other outcomes (no matter how noble those outcome may be) and when, just as importantly, we take pride in doing so, something is amiss.
We can do better.

United Way Donates $31,000 to SDC’s Tax Help Program

The United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County has awarded a $31,000 grant to the Social Development Commission (SDC) for its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.  SDC is the Community Action Agency serving Milwaukee County.

The VITA program offers free federal and state tax preparation and filing assistance for low-income residents. It also offers financial workshops and banking assistance for those with a household income of $56,000 or less.

The SDC aims to raise $82,000 for VITA and also garner matching funds from the Internal Revenue Service for the 2015-’16 tax season. It expects to provide free tax return preparation and filing for 8,000 people this season.

“Learning of the grant from United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County was a magnificent holiday gift to SDC and the individuals and families that rely on the VITA tax program,” said George Hinton, chief executive officer of SDC. “United Way’s support means we can maximize our VITA operations and help thousands of program participants save hundreds of dollars which they can use for bills or to purchase food for their families.”

“Part of United Way’s mission is to mobilize people and resources to change lives and improve our community.” said Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact for United Way. “We were honored to be able to assist the Social Development Commission with the resources needed to continue this vital service to help local families.”

The VITA program will begin Jan. 19 and run through April 18. Locations and hours for assistance will be posted at www.cr-sdc.org in mid-January.

(This article compliments from BizTimes, Milwaukee Business News)

CAI Child Care Learing Center Earns Highest Youngstar Rating

A program of Community Action, Inc. of Rock & Walworth Counties, Community Kids Learning Center, has recently received a five-star YoungStar rating from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF).

Five stars is the highest rating available, indicating a provider “meets highest levels of quality standards.”

This is the first year the community action agency’s child care center has achieved this rating level. The center experienced significant renovations in 2015 – from new doors and HVAC units to a new playground with an outdoor classroom space. The renovations were made possible by a capital campaign involving a $100,000 donation from a local business. The gift sparked other donations and volunteer labor to upgrade the center’s overall environment.

While Community Kids serves families from all income levels, the majority of children enrolled are eligible for state child care assistance. Community Kids is also one of the few state licensed centers in Janesville that offers second-shift schedules for working families.

Community Action, Inc. is the designated Community Action Agency for Rock and Walworth Counties, a locally controlled, not-for-profit organization providing a broad spectrum of community programs aimed at preventing and reducing poverty in Rock and Walworth Counties. CAI operates a Fresh Start program, child care; at-risk youth programming; health care; senior benefits counseling; homeownership programs; affordable housing units; home weatherization and rehabilitation; assistance in dealing with housing crises; food for area pantries; and shelter for the homeless.


WISCAP Helps to Expand Rural Facilities

Five years ago, the neighboring Trempealeau County villages of Strum (pop. 1,001) and Eleva (pop. 635) faced identical problems. What to do about the communities’ aging wastewater treatment facilities?

The Strum facility, constructed in 1981, was in poor overall condition. The facility operated, on average, at about 65% of capacity. Forecasts indicated it would exceed capacity on an average day before the year 2030. In addition, the plant wasn’t capable of meeting the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ [DNR] phosphorous criteria.

In Eleva, a similar plant had been constructed in 1982. It operated at about 50% of capacity and it too would be overloaded regularly by 2030. The plant also did not meet the DNR’s phosphorous standards.

To address the issues of their aging treatment facilities the villages, in 2010, hired an engineering firm to complete a facility plan for the upgrade or replacement of their respective wastewater treatment facilities (WWTF).

After evaluating the various options and costs, it was agreed the best solution was to construct a new regional treatment facility to serve the needs of both communities – the Eleva-Strum Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility.  Based on the evaluation criteria used, joint treatment was found to be 25% less costly than constructing, owning and operating individual facilities.

The villages were referred to WISCAP’S Rural Community Development Department by both the engineering firm and by the U.S Department of Agriculture – Rural Development for assistance in developing a funding package for the $6.5 million joint project. Bill Brown, WISCAP’s Rural Community Development Director, and Lisa Totten, Rural Development Specialist, worked on the package. U.S.D.A. funding applications were developed. WISCAP completed income surveys for both communities for a Community Development Block Grant [CDBG] application. WISCAP also prepared the CDBG application for Eleva. The various mix of grant and loan applications was successful, resulting in a total funding package of $6,510,000 (USDA-Rural Development loan in the amount of $4,167,000; a USDA-Rural Development grant in the amount of $1,915,000; a CDBG grant in the amount of $400,000; and local funds totaling $28,000).

Plans and specifications for the project were approved by the DNR in October 2011. The facility was designed and bid in 2012; constructed in 2013; and became fully functional in 2014. During the construction phase, WISCAP Rural Development Specialist Totten also served as CDBG Administrator for the Village of Eleva.

To provide oversight and financial management of the project during construction and operation of the new facility, the villages of Eleva and Strum established the Eleva-Strum Joint Sewerage Commission. Totten provided financial management assistance to the commission and continues to assist both communities and the Commission with financial management capacity building and U.S.D.A. reporting – services provided under WISCAP’s Technitrain program, funded by USDA-Rural Development.

More Articles


The Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP) is the statewide association for Wisconsin’s sixteen (16) Community Action Agencies and three single-purpose agencies with statewide focus. Read more


A Home for Everyone Conference

Jul 13 - 14, 2016

WISCAP Board of Directors Retreat

Aug 3 - 4, 2016

Poverty Matters! Conference

Sep 14 - 15, 2016


Edwina’s Success Story
I had been homeless for three years. I called Ms. Donna at the Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, Inc., and asked if she could help. I was so excited to know someone wanted to...
More Success Stories