Stateside: Welfare benefit reform takes effect, thousands in Michigan are impacted

Nov 19, 2012

Nine months after a Michigan welfare reform was implemented, the number of Michigan families receiving state checks plummeted to the lowest level in more than 40 years.

More than 9,000 Michigan families were removed from cash assistance last fall, a number that has recently grown to 15,000.

Ron French, writer for Bridge Magazine, addressed the cuts.

“Last fall, the legislature reformed welfare in a way that put time limits on welfare recipients. The legislature wanted to enforce a limit of 48 months on welfare recipients. The legislature and governor wanted to move more people to the workforce," said French.

"But what happened is that the Department of Human Services took it a step further and really kicked off more people than would have been otherwise."

Michigan Radio’s Lester Graham noted the effect the cuts had on families’ ability to pay essential bills.

“Suddenly we saw 11,000 families kicked off of cash assistance, which meant they couldn’t pay their utilities or rent,” said Graham.

The progress of the families taken off the assistance is vague.  

“The state has not tracked the families who were removed from cash assistance. How many of them are employed in a way that has replaced the money they would have received from the state? Of the families we spoke to, most of their living situations had not changed,” said French.

French insisted little evidence exists that people cut from the program are now entering the workforce.

Both Graham and French concurred that children feel the effects of these cuts.

“The point I think everyone misses is that the kids are paying the price for his. There are more kids benefiting from this cash assistance than household leaders,” said Graham.

“Only families get cash assistance. It really is for the benefit of the children,” said French.

“Our unemployment rate is still really high. But the $16 million the state is saving in doing this, there will be a greater cost in the long run because some of these kids will end up in foster care or jail. There is a long-term cost to this,” said Graham.

Many parents taking care of a disabled child are forced to exit the workforce. Funding for these people is of great importance.

“A person I talked to had a disabled child and was not able to take a job training program. Now, funding has ended for her,” said Graham.

“There are about 600 families around the state who had been exempted from worker training because the only able-bodied worker in the family needed to stay at home to care for a disabled child or spouse. These are families who are really stuck,” said French.

Both guests agreed that families should be given a limited amount of time to receive assistance.

“There needs to be a limit of some kind," said French.

“Everybody agrees there is a problem with welfare. Where should the reforms really happen? Why haven’t the job training programs worked better? There are a lot of questions we should have been asking before we said 11,000 families are off,” said Graham.

-Cameron Stewart

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