Our High Five for December

A food stamps office served residents on Milwaukee's south side. JS file photo
A food stamps office served residents on Milwaukee's south side. JS file photo

Can single parents in Wisconsin "easily" get $35,000 worth of government benefits in a year?

We wanted to know the answer to that after Wisconsin Congressman-Elect Glenn Grothman claimed it in an interview.

PolitiFact Wisconsin readers were intensely curious as well. Our Truth-O-Meter item on Grothman’s statement was the most-clicked item in December on our website.

Here’s our High Five list for the month:

1. Grothman and welfare

Grothman is on a crusade to trim back certain benefits, which he views as collectively amounting to a bribe not to work hard or get married to someone who works.

He’s in a position to influence the issue now. The Republican state senator from southeast Wisconsin easily won the November 2014 race for the open 6th Congressional District seat and will succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Petri in 2015.

We set out to analyze Grothman’s claim that public assistance (FoodShare, for example) and tax benefits (Earned Income Tax Credits, for example) can add up to more than $35,000 a year for a single parent with two children.

We rated the claim Mostly False.

There are estimates that add up to $35,000 in a state Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo prepared for hypothetical scenarios Grothman suggested.

But his use of the word "easily" goes too far. The very analysis he cites as evidence concludes that only a small  percentage of Wisconsin residents would qualify for all of the various child care subsidies, housing aid, food stamps and tax benefits cited.

2. Obama and federal deficits

Our item from September on President Barack Obama’s simple declaration that "We cut our deficits by more than half" continued to draw a lot of attention.

The numbers back up Obama’s claim, we found in rating it True. Income tax revenues have rebounded as more people have returned to work during the economic recovery. And spending on emergency assistance has slowed.

America’s deficit has fallen by more than 50 percent, from its highest point since World War II to a level $733 billion lower.

3. Obamacare and health-care costs

We rated Mostly False U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore’s claim that, "We've had the lowest health care inflation in history because of Obamacare."

There’s an element of truth in her claim, given that the Affordable Care Act is given some credit for the smallest increases in health care inflation on record.

But Moore’s claim gave all the credit to Obamacare, when there isn’t evidence it played that large of a role.

4. The fight over Right-To-Work legislation

As Republicans got ready to introduce legislation prohibiting businesses and unions from requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment, we took a look back at past Truth-O-Meter rulings on the issue.

Republicans argue that workers should not be required to join a labor union to get a job. Unions and some companies are fighting to keep things the way they are, arguing that wages would suffer under "right to work" because unions would be weakened by such legislation.

5. Wisconsin vs. Texas

Our item on statements by national conservative commentator Mario Loyola touched off an online debate.

"Wisconsin’s state budget is almost twice as large per person as the state budget of Texas, and even after billions in tax cuts, Wisconsin’s working families and businesses remain subject to a heavy tax burden," Loyola wrote in the National Review.

Mostly True, we said.

Loyola was on target on taxes, and cited a credible study on spending that is open to challenge but generally defensible.

A few of the runners-up:

State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said that at the 50 Milwaukee schools serving "at least 80 percent African-American and at least 80 percent low income" students, the reading proficiency is 8 percent. True, we found.

Also rated True: NBC’s Chuck Todd’s comment that Wisconsin is below the national average in wage growth and job growth.