Politics & Government
3:39 pm
Thu December 6, 2012

A 'nail in the coffin' for efforts to stop welfare changes in Michigan?

Bridge Magazine's Ron French reports on legislation that could be "a nail in the coffin" for efforts to halt welfare rule changes in Michigan."

The effort to remove 15,000 families from cash assistance in Michigan was billed as a cost-cutting measure. A necessary step for a state "that can no longer afford" to pay the benefits.

It wasn't a legislative move. It was a policy move by the Department of Human Services.

Michigan Radio's Lester Graham described the decision in detail in 2011.

Ron French reports that Michigan "removed more families from cash assistance in a shorter amount of time than any other state."

And now those policy changes could become law. From Bridge Magazine:

Senate Bill 1386, which would codify the Department of Human Services’ controversial time limits on cash assistance, is rushing through the Legislature this week, in what appears to be an attempt to place the policy into law before legislators leave for the holidays — and before the Michigan Supreme Court has an opportunity to rule on the legality of the policy.

French reports that those losing the benefits have been the urban poor, and that more than half of the 15,000 families dropped from cash assistance come from just three of Michigan's counties: Wayne, Genesee, and Kent counties.

Opponents to the welfare cuts say this new legislation is a reaction to their legal actions. The Center for Civil Justice put 6,000 families back on cash assistance while their case against the DHS policy is pending before the Michigan Supreme Court.

More from Ron French and Bridge Magazine:

In a Senate hearing Wednesday, a representative of DHS referenced the lawsuit when advocating for the bill, according to Jackie Doig, lead attorney for CCJ.

“This legislation is a reaction to the lawsuit,” Doig said.

Under the bill, most families would be limited to 60 months of cash assistance over their lifetimes. And those months could be counted retroactively back to 1996.

“It’s like changing the IRS rules and sending you a bill for 15 years of back taxes,” Doig said.

Time limits always have existed for cash assistance, but there were exemptions, for example, for families living in areas of high unemployment and families in which the only able-bodied adult was a care giver for a seriously disabled spouse or child.

Those exemptions were removed by the DHS policy in the fall of 2011. The bill now in the Legislature would turn that policy into law.

If the law is enacted, the state is projected to save about $2.8 million per month, according to an analysis by the Senate Fiscal Agency .

Neither the sponsor of the bill — Sen. Bruce Caswell, R-Hillsdale — or DHS returned calls for comment.

Bridge Magazine and Michigan Radio have been working together to track the impact of the first year of this welfare reform policy in a series of articles in 2011 and this year.