Commentary
10:13 am
Thu July 14, 2011

Limiting welfare... now what?

If you’ve been supporting your family on welfare since the Great Recession started three years ago, here’s news for you. You’ve got one more year left. And then your benefits will be cut off, forever.

What if you get a job after that, work hard for another ten years, and then become the victim of another recession? Sorry, you are out of luck, once your savings and unemployment run out.

What if you have kids? Well, you can still get food stamps.

Yesterday, the state Senate passed a bill which, once the governor signs it, will mean that you can be on welfare for a maximum of four years in your entire life.

Doesn’t matter what might happen to you, the nation or the economy. Four years, and that’s it. Doesn’t matter if you are supporting children. Oh -- if you are pregnant or have a new baby you might be able to stay on the rolls for another 60 or 90 days, but then that’s it. They did make one exemption:  those caring for a disabled child or spouse. But that’s all.

The sponsor of this legislation, State Rep. Ken Horn, a Republican from Frankenmuth, says putting this cap on welfare will make Michigan stronger. What I don’t understand is how.

Now, if you aren’t an expert on the system, you may think we are ending welfare for a bunch of lazy adults who would prefer lying around and watching TV to working. Well, guess what.

They were on a program called general assistance, and Gov. John Engler ended it 20 years ago. Welfare as we once knew it has been gradually reduced since the 1980s. Mainly, the only people still receiving payments are needy families.

Now, about 12,000 of those families, which include 25,000 children, will lose benefits forever. That might not be bad, if ending welfare meant the heads of those households would now go out and get good-paying jobs. But they won’t.

Largely, that’s because they can’t. There are too few jobs, and fewer that folks on welfare are able to fill. State Sen. Morris Hood of Detroit put it best.

“Where are those people going to go?” he asked yesterday. “Where are they going to go to get food?

And he added, “Do we really understand what we are doing?

My guess is that those who pushed this legislation mostly don't. I think they believe that some of those kicked off welfare will get jobs, and that they secretly hope others will leave the state.

Well, a few may do both. But most will remain, as part of a growing, desperate underclass. If you think this will increase the crime rate, evidence suggests you are right.

There’s a management principle that says if you bring the boss a problem, bring a solution as well. Here’s one those eager to end welfare might have considered: Put anyone on welfare to work for the state in some way. Maybe it is only cutting grass or picking up litter, but there’s lots that needs to be done.

Teaching people how to work is a skill immensely valuable to society. Creating a vast desperate underclass threatens it.

You’d think that those with the most to lose ought to be the most worried about that.