University News

From Whitewater to Washington, D.C.: A Warhawk’s journey in public policy

March 07, 2024

Written by Chris Lindeke | Photos by Craig Schreiner, submitted

Wisconsin native Angela Rachidi makes routine trips to Washington, D.C., as a leading voice in federal policy that impacts low-income families.

It was her experience as a public policy and administration major at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater that built the foundation for her successful career — one that has impacted millions of aid recipients and positioned her to be in the rooms where national policy decisions happen.

Rachidi, who currently resides in Middleton, is a senior fellow in poverty and opportunity for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a public policy think tank in Washington. In her role, she studies federal safety net policies, focusing on poverty and opportunity and evaluating how effective they are in reducing poverty and increasing opportunity for low-income families in the U.S.

Based on her expertise and research in various federal safety net programs, which include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Earned income tax credit (EITC), childcare, workforce development, and paid family leave, she advises Capitol Hill staffers and policy makers in the legislative and executive branches of government.

Angela Rachidi in a green blazer.

Rachidi, who also works as a consultant to organizations in Wisconsin, has worked hard to develop relationships and build a strong reputation. She has emerged as a go-to contact for federal safety net programs and how they impact people at the state and federal levels.

“I think that was kind of a gap in public debate that I’ve been able to fill in certain policy areas, such as food assistance for low-income families and measuring poverty,” Rachidi said. “There are a few key areas that don’t get a lot of attention, but in small policy circles they’re very important.”

As a leader in the space, Rachidi co-edited a book with Wisconsin politician and AEI fellow Paul Ryan titled “American Renewal: A Conservative Plan To Strengthen The Social Contract And Save The Country’s Finances.” The publication focuses on the nation’s fiscal situation and programs designed to help both low-income families and the general public, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, safety net programs, education and other programs.

“The idea was that it would be a policy book that policy makers could pull off the shelf as issues arose,” Rachidi said. “I was the managing editor but I also had the pleasure of writing a chapter in that book and putting forward an agenda for reforms to safety net programs.”

Pictured, right: UW-Whitewater alumna Angela Rachidi in Middleton, Wisconsin, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.


A small-town beginning

As a high school student in Lancaster, a town of approximately 3,900 people located 80 miles southwest of Madison, Rachidi toured three schools in southern Wisconsin during her college search. The allure of playing on the softball team and the reputation of the College of Business and Economics led her to choose UW-Whitewater.

Rachidi intended to major in business, but was drawn to the public policy and administration major for its unique combination of courses in business and political science.

“I was able to take economics, I was able to take accounting, statistics, and combine that with more of a policy focus and other courses I found interesting,” Rachidi said. “I built up my analytic skills, which served me very well throughout my academic career as well as my professional career.”

Rachidi also excelled as an infielder for the Warhawk softball team, earning four all-conference honors during her career and leading the Warhawks to the 1996 conference championship and two trips to the NCAA Tournament. She was named the conference’s Judy Kruckman Scholar-Athlete in softball as a senior.

In 2019, Rachidi was inducted into UW-Whitewater’s Athletics Hall of Fame. She maintains friendships with some of her Warhawk softball teammates to this day.


A framed black and white photo of Rachidi in college dressed in a softball uniform.


“My time playing softball is probably the most formative in my mind because of the relationships I built through that,” Rachidi said. “I always had a lot of support along the way. I felt like overall it was a great experience both academically and athletically.”

Rachidi enjoyed a class in state and local government and was drawn to the idea of city management by one of her professors. After graduating in 1998, she earned a master’s degree in city management from Northern Illinois University before taking a job as assistant to the city manager for the City of Janesville.


A big leap to the Big Apple

As a lifelong Wisconsinite, Rachidi wanted to get out of her comfort zone and move to another area of the country. After four years working in Janesville, she decided to move to New York City, where she found a job working for the city’s Department of Social Services.

“I was very fortunate in that I had a background working for the City of Janesville in local government,” Rachidi said. “I think it was partly because I had that background at the city level and I did have a public policy and administration undergraduate degree and master’s degree.”

Rachidi drew on the resilience and grit she counted on as a student-athlete at UW-Whitewater to cope with the adjustment of moving to a large city. She held multiple positions in her 10-plus years working for the agency, eventually landing a senior-level position as deputy commissioner for policy research and evaluation.

Working under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, she oversaw the Department of Social Services’ policy research and program evaluation efforts. Drawing on her analytical education and experience, Rachidi conducted field work, program evaluations, and data analysis to better understand how people in the city experienced safety net programs.

New York City’s Department of Social Services included 14,000 employees — equal to the entire population of the City of Whitewater. The city’s department aided millions of people receiving Medicaid, food stamps, cash assistance and other support.

Rachidi said her time in the city was productive, formative and rewarding. She earned a Ph.D. in public policy from New School University in 2015 to complement her experience in the city.

“There were families that very much relied on these programs to not only survive day-to-day, but to try to make their lives better,” she said. “There are lots of examples from my time in New York City where I felt like I contributed to trying to make those programs better and trying to make sure that people experienced them better.”


A return to Wisconsin

Rachidi returned to her home state in 2016, accepting a position as research fellow with the AEI before being promoted to senior research fellow two years later.

After cutting her teeth in city government in Janesville and building an impressive resume in public policy in New York City, Rachidi now collaborates with leading politicians in the nation’s capital. She has worked events with Senators Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney and has been in hearings with Senators Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders.

Rachidi and her husband, Abdel, have four children, including three sons — Omar (13 years old), Ali (10) and Jamil (9) — and one daughter, Amina (6). She enjoys her work with the AEI and the flexibility her current schedule allows, but is not ruling out a return to public service at the state or federal level.

“I’m able to direct the conversation in ways that I find important based on my research and my expertise,” Rachidi said. “I absolutely love what I’m doing right now.”

Explore related stories at UW-Whitewater