cash assistance

Mother and three small kids getting ready for school.
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

As part of our State of Opportunity project, we’re following parents as they struggle to get off public assistance and make a better future for their children. This is an update on one of those families.

I first interviewed Keisha Johnson on a steamy summer day last June. Johnson, 25, grew up poor and is still poor to this day. But she has three reasons she wants to climb out poverty, and their names are Kaleb, Jurnee, and Alan, Jr.

Unemployment line in California
Michael Raphael / Flickr

Applicants for cash assistance in Michigan will have to go through a new 21-day assessment.

The state Department of Human Services Wednesday said the program is meant to bolster applicants’ job prospects.

The PATH program will replace a less intensive job training program.

DHS spokesman Dave Akerly said many people can’t find or keep a job because they have trouble finding child care and transportation.

Homeless
SamPac / creative commons

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.

user Penywise / morguefile

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.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

State lawmakers are taking testimony on legislation to require some state welfare recipients to undergo drug testing.

Michigan tried before to require drug testing of welfare recipients.    That law mandated random drug testing.    But the courts stopped that program a decade ago.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan officials are sending letters to 13,000 low-income families who have lost cash assistance because they hit a five-year federal limit telling them they may still qualify for benefits under state law.

The notices will explain how families can reapply for monthly checks.

Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Geoffrey Neithercut ruled last month that recipients can't be cut off once they reach the five-year federal limit if they haven't also reached the state limit.

Michigan's four-year limit doesn't include months where a parent is needed at home to care for a disabled child or other family member. Those months count under the federal limit.

The Michigan Supreme Court declined to immediately hear an appeal. The state Department of Human Services has asked the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse Neithercut's decision.

The online magazine Bridge and Michigan Watch are collaborating on a year-long series of reports about the Michigan families who were removed from welfare. The Department of Human Services changed how it applied eligibility rules, resulting in thousands of Michigan families losing cash assistance from the state. Often that money was used for rent payments.

The latest stories come from Ron French of Bridge.

Welfare reform leaves families without a net, and off the radar

Three months after the launch of an aggressive welfare reform, Michigan has kicked more people off the dole than expected and saved the state millions of dollars. How the approximately 15,000 families cut off from cash assistance are surviving, though, isn’t as clear.  (Read entire article here.)

Daily life gets harder for three families

Her family is paying her rent; food stamps get her and her children most of the way through the month. But three months after being kicked off welfare, Matthews says she’s received cut-off notices for her electricity, gas and water. (Read the whole story here.)

Last month, more than 11,000 families were kicked off Michigan’s Family Independence Program, a cash assistance welfare program.

Lester Graham with Michigan Watch is working with the online magazine Bridge in a year-long collaboration, following families who’ve lost the state assistance. 

The legislature has been blamed for the loss of benefits to those 11,000 families, but its vote to restrict families to 48 months of benefits in a lifetime only immediately affected about 100 families.

It was an administrative decision by the Department of Human Services which resulted in kicking all those other families off of cash assistance. 

The new law allows no more than 48 months of benefits in a lifetime and it started counting months in 2007.  On its own, the agency, started counting months in 1996 and decided anyone who’d received help for more than 60 months since then would be cut off. 

That’s how those 11,000 families suddenly lost cash assistance.

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a new law that cuts people off cash welfare benefits forever after four years.

That’s not necessarily four years in a row. That means you are limited to 48 months of benefits, lifetime, even if you have three little kids, say, and have no other means of support.

There are a few temporary and special hardship special exemptions, but the bottom line is that about 40,000 people, three-quarters of whom are children, have been cut off.

A Michigan Department of Human Services office in Detroit was the scene of protests, confusion, and anger this morning.  This was the day people losing welfare cash assistance had a chance to challenge that decision, but the hearings were delayed.

People losing cash-assistance were told to be at the Department of Humans Services office at 8 o’clock this morning and to be prepared to spend the day waiting for their teleconferenced hearing to be conducted.  Three hours later, the hearings had not started.

About a thousand Michigan families will find out on Monday or Tuesday whether they will be cut off of cash assistance welfare benefits for hitting a four-year cap.

The state Department of Human Services is holding two days of “rocket docket” hearings.

People challenging their cutoff are expected to show up first thing in the morning, and wait their turn to make their case to a magistrate and a caseworker.

They will be told before they leave whether they still qualify.

Gilda Jacobs directs the Michigan League for Human Services, which opposes the policy. 

“I guess it’s kind of letting people know right away to try to reduce their anxiety, but it’s going to be creating a lot more panic and anxiety if folks find out they’re going to reach that hard cap,” said Jacobs.

The director of the Department of Human Services says the “rocket docket” is meant to end drawn-out appeals.

 Unions are planning to stage protests at some DHS offices.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of volunteers in neon yellow t-shirts handed out winter coats and hats, helped answer specific questions and enroll people in dozens of assistance programs that already exist.

48-year old George McCree lives in Kalamazoo, but he doesn’t have a permanent job or home right now. He got help finding temporary shelter at the Project Connect event last May. That inspired him to start volunteering at a soup kitchen in town.

Hundreds of people have appealed to the state to keep their cash assistance benefits. More than 11,000 families are set to lose those benefits next week.

Sheryl Thompson is with the state Department of Human Services. She says people who file appeals within 10 days of receiving a cut-off notice can have their benefits continue while the case is decided, although "if the department’s decision is upheld then they will need to repay those benefit amounts."

The department is required to make a decision within 65 days of when an appeal request is filed.

New state rules strictly enforce a four-year limit on cash assistance benefits.

Over the course of the next year Michigan Watch, the investigative/accountability unit of Michigan Radio, and Bridge Magazine, the online magazine put together by the Center for Michigan, will be collaborating on coverage of Michigan families who were dropped from cash assistance welfare.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman delayed the cash-assistance cap for some welfare recipients in Michigan. (A new law caps cash-assistance payments from the state to a total of four years in a lifetime.)

The state sent out notices to recipients starting last month notifying them their benefits would cease, but Judge Borman said those notices were deficient. He issued a restraining order against the Michigan Department of Human Services.

Today, the agency sent new notices to 11,162 recipients telling them their cash-assistance payments will stop. The MDHS says the new notices are "in accordance with the ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul D. Borman."

From a MDHS press release:

The reissued notices cite the appropriate legal authority as well as more prominent language on the appeal process, as required in the ruling.

"We are moving forward with the welfare reform passed by the legislature," said Maura D. Corrigan, DHS director.  "These notices, the fourth that have been sent to recipients affected, follow Judge Borman’s directive."

Corrigan said the MDHS has not interrupted benefits to this group yet and continues to help them with job placement programs, food assistance, and help with rent.

The MDHS says that clients have 10 days to appeal the cut-off decision. If the decision is appealed within 10 days, recipients will continue to receive payments until their appeal is heard.

People affected by the cuts can call the Michigan Department of Human Services at 1-855-763-3677 with questions.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week's court ruling ordering the state to reinstate welfare benefits until recipients get adequate notice of termination has re-ignited the fight over whether the state should have approved new limits on the cash assistance.

 “We have the chance to right one of the wrongs committed by this body, and to save thousands of children from starvation and homelessness,” said Sen. Coleman Young (D-Detroit).

A federal judge has stopped a major round of cuts in cash benefits for Michigan welfare recipients, saying the notices were deficient.

It's a significant decision. Republicans who control the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder had approved a stricter four-year cap on cash payments, effective Oct. 1.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman issued a restraining order today that prevents people from being cut from the program. He says the Michigan Department of Human Services did not meet the requirements under law when it sent notices to thousands of people.

The judge ordered new notices, which would give people the right to a hearing to determine if they would lose cash assistance from the state.

New rules for the 48-month limit on welfare cash assistance goes in effect on October 1. Twelve-thousand families will lose cash assistance, that includes upwards of 25,000 children. Gilda Jacobs, President and CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services spoke with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White about what impacts the limit will in our state.

A group of families on welfare has filed a class-action lawsuit in an effort to block a new limit on benefits that takes effect tomorrow. The rule sets a 48-month cap on cash assistance payments.

Thousands of families will lose cash assistance payments because they have hit the four-year maximum on collecting benefits.

A lot of people are worried about what’s been going on in the stock market. I guess I should be, too.  To the extent I have any retirement savings, they are tied up in stock-heavy mutual funds.

But what bothers me much more is what’s going on with poverty in this state. A week from today, we are ending cash welfare assistance to something close to twelve thousand families.

That means close to thirty thousand children will suddenly be utterly dependent on the kindness of strangers. And their numbers will grow, every month.

Yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation that places tighter limits on cash assistance benefits to the poor.

It puts a four-year lifetime cap on cash assistance payments from the state. The four years don't have to be consecutive, they can be tallied up over time, and the clock on the four-year cap started on October 1, 2007.

It's estimated that 12,600 cases will be taken off the cash assistance as of October 1, 2011.

Peter Luke of MLive points out that in 2006, then-governor Jennifer Granholm also signed legislation limiting cash benefits to four years, "but DHS caseworkers had leeway to authorize exemptions."

This measure is more strict, and Governor Snyder said his administration is "returning cash assistance to its original intent as a transitional program to help families while they work toward self-sufficiency."

From MLive:

DHS Director Maura Corrigan said the agency is partnering with non-profit groups to provide recipients with a “soft landing” during the transition... The measure is estimated save the 2012 state budget about $65 million.

The new law also allows families on the rolls to earn more money on the job while still receiving benefits. In the past, families that earned more than $814 a month could no longer qualify for cash assistance. The new limit on earned income is $1,164.

"Michigan continues to face financial challenges, and the fiscal reality is that we cannot afford to provide lifetime cash assistance to recipients who are able to work," Corrigan said.

In a statement, the head of the Michigan League for Human Services, Gilda Jacobs, says these cash benefits support children in need:

The Department of Human Services has estimated that 29,700 children will be cut from cash assistance in October. Though the department says it will assist the families for a few months, it’s questionable whether new jobs will be available for adults in these families by the end of the year.

It will be a hard, hard winter for many of these families.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed legislation that would end cash assistance welfare benefits after a family has been receiving payments for 48 months or more. 

About 12,600 cases, many of them families with children, will close and lose their benefits when the law takes effect on October 1.

In a statement, Governor Snyder says four years should be long enough for people to become self-sufficient and some people have been getting cash assistance for as long as 14 years.

Critics of the new limits say many of the people who will lose assistance are families with children, and many of the people who lose the benefits are adults who can’t find a job in a bad economy.

Governor Snyder’s administration says caseworkers will still make sure families who lose benefits will continue to get Medicaid coverage, food assistance, and help with training and job searches.

The savings to taxpayers is pegged at $65 million dollars in the upcoming fiscal year.

Republican state lawmakers say this won’t be the final word this year on changes in the welfare system.

The State House could vote as soon as this week on more limits to public assistance, including making sure automatic teller machines in casinos cannot accept Bridge Cards to make cash withdrawals, and canceling the cards of people with outstanding warrants.

Matt Katzenberger / Flickr

The legislature recently approved a bill that would impose a stricter four-year lifetime limit on welfare cash assistance. The new limits could affect 12,000 families in Michigan. Governor Snyder has yet to sign the bill into law.

In this week's political roundup we talk about the bill with Debbie Dingell, a Democratic Political Analyst and member of the Democratic National Committee and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow for Public Sector Consultants.

Dingell says:

Andrew Magill / Flickr

About 13-thousand Michigan families will stop getting money from the state on October 1st. That’s when the families will reach their five-year federal lifetime limit for cash assistance. The cash assistance program is designed to support low-income families with pregnant women or children until they find jobs.

Sheryl Thompson is with the Department of Human Services. She says people with no income who have children will no longer be able to extend the limit for cash assistance.

"This was never meant to be a long-term solution," she said. "It was always supposed to be a short-term solution as a safety net."

Thompson says Michigan will save about 77-million-dollars this year. Other services including job placement and food assistance are available for people who qualify.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom