Detroit braces for impact of welfare cap

Oct 3, 2011

People looking for help with rent, utilities and other monthly bills crowded a resource fair Union Grace Baptist Church in Detroit over the weekend.

Many of them faced their first month without cash assistance from the state. A four-year welfare benefit cap kicks in this month.

One such person is Tamika Thomas. She says she’s been getting assistance on-and-off for four years, using it to pay the bills while she goes to school.

But Thomas says school is out of the question now. She says she needs to find a job in the next two weeks, or she’ll be evicted.                                                                                      

“Everybody keeps telling me to keep God in your life, to look to God. But God is not gonna pay my bills October the 12th. My light and gas will get shut off, and me and my kids will be in the freezing cold. We have nowhere to go. I don’t have any family here. We need the assistance right now. It’s too cold for this to happen right now.”

Thomas says she also fears crime in her neighborhood will grow worse as some people start to take desperate measures. An estimated 41,000 people lost their benefits Saturday, about half of them in Detroit.  About 30,000 are children.

Detroit officials call the move ill-timed. Department heads say they weren’t given much warning about the impending cutoff, and had little time to coordinate back-up plans.

The city has  organized its own resource fair to help connect affected people with other forms of assistance. It runs from Monday through Wednesday at Cobo Center. But officials acknowledge the coming winter will inevitably be a difficult one, especially since the state has also trimmed other service programs for low-income families.

Governor Snyder says the cap restores the original purpose of cash assistance: to help temporarily needy people become self-sufficient.