December 3, 2016
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Wisconsin Settles US Bias Charges



Under a new agreement between the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), DCF will ensure that when Wisconsin families seek income assistance and help finding employment, they will have an equal opportunity to participate in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, regardless of race, color, national origin or disability.

DCF entered into the agreement following an OCR investigation of complaints filed by Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, and the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP. The complaints alleged that DCF and its predecessor agency, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), discriminated on the basis of race and disability in the administration of the W-2 program.  The disability-related complaints stemmed from the experiences of individual families.

"State TANF programs provide critical income assistance to some of the Nation's poorest families while helping parents prepare for and secure employment," said OCR Director Georgina Verdugo.  "The Office for Civil Rights is committed to ensuring that each state TANF program is accessible to all, regardless of race, color, national origin or disability. This voluntary compliance agreement between OCR and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families is a model for states in preventing unlawful discrimination in their TANF programs."

Pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), DCF will ensure that sanctions (i.e., reductions in W-2 assistance) are not applied to TANF participants in a discriminatory manner based on race, color, or national origin (including limited English proficiency). Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), DCF will screen and assess TANF applicants and participants to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities receive reasonable accommodations, which may include job training and supports for a longer time period than what is typically afforded, sign language interpreters, or in-depth services from the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

The allegations of race discrimination were evidenced, in part, by the "Wisconsin Works (W-2) Sanctions Study," a report prepared by DWD in 2004. The report found that for a three year period in the Wisconsin TANF program, there were significant racial disparities in sanction rates for alleged failures to comply with program requirements. Latino and African-American program participants both were sanctioned at a higher rate than white program participants.

Individuals who believe that they have been discriminated against because of their race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex or religion by a health care or human services provider (such as a hospital or social service agency) or by a state or local health or human services agency, may file a complaint with OCR at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/complaints/index.html.

Copies of the Voluntary Compliance Agreement and the "Wisconsin Works (W-2) Sanctions Study" are available at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/agreements/index.html. Copies of OCR's guidance, "Prohibition Against Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in the Administration of TANF" and "Meeting the Needs of TANF Applicants and Beneficiaries under Federal Civil Rights Laws," can be found at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/specialtopics/tanf/index.html.


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