welfare

The Michigan League for Human Services is pressuring lawmakers in Michigan who voted last year cut tax credits for working poor families.

The earned income tax credit - or EITC - gives people who would qualify for welfare an incentive to go to work instead. There's a federal credit, and one offered at the state level too. But the state credit was reduced last year in a budget-cutting move.

The reduced tax credit allows families who qualify to claim 6-percent of the federal earned income credit on their 2012 state taxes. In the past, families could claim 20-percent.

Judy Putnam is with the Michigan League for Human Services; a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group. She says the tax credits boost the economy because poor families spend the money right away.

 "Whereas a business or an upper-income tax payer you know getting tax breaks they don’t automatically go and spend that money,” Putnam said.

The organization has published a report it hopes will convince Republicans to restore the earned income tax credit. The report outlines the legislative districts with the most residents affected by the change. 

Here's the breakdown by state senator's district; while another set here break the data down by state representatives. 

(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.

We have a correction to a story we recently aired regarding the declining number of people receiving cash assistance through a particular welfare program in Michigan.

Michigan Radio recently reported on a sharp decline in the number of people receiving aid through the Family Independence Program.    

The program provides cash assistance to families with young children and pregnant women. The program is intended to help with living expenses, like rent and utilities. 

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A judge says some Michigan welfare recipients protected from losing benefits under state law can't be cut off because they exceed federal limits.

Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Geoffrey Neithercut ruled Tuesday that state Department of Human Services director Maura Corrigan "exceeded her authority" by ending benefits for most welfare recipients once they reached the five-year federal limit.

Michigan lawmakers in 2007 adopted a four-year limit that had several exceptions, then approved stricter enforcement last year.

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

Neithercut says the state can't deny benefits to those who haven't reached the four-year state cap.

The department says it's reviewing the 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.)

user mensatic / morgueFile

A new report from Michigan’s Auditor General shows problems with determining eligibility for some public assistance programs.

In 2008, Auditor General Thomas McTavish recommended D-H-S come up with system to reduce the number of errors it made and improve payment accuracy for three public assistance programs: the Family Independence Program (FIP), the Child Development and Care program (CDC), and the Medical Assistance (MA) program.

The state Department of Human Services is developing a policy to screen for drug use among applicants for cash assistance welfare benefits, and to drug-test those deemed likely to be substance abusers.

DHS officials say they want the new policy to be part of an overhaul of the state’s welfare-to-work program in the spring of next year.  The department submitted a report with its recommendations to the Legislature earlier this month.

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.

Liz West / Flickr

Michigan ranks third highest in the nation for the percent of households that receive food stamps. That’s according to U.S. Census data. Oregon and Tennessee top the list.

The data show nearly 17 percent of Michigan households have at least one person who receives food assistance from the federal government.

Karen Holcomb-Merrill, with the Michigan League for Human Services, said about two million people receive aid to buy food.

“That’s a really huge number when you consider that the population of the state is under 10 million,” said Holdcomb-Merrill.

But she said that number has gone down since the beginning of the year.

“One of the reasons for that is that the Department of Human Services changed their rules and their polices with regards to college students receiving food assistance,” said Holcomb-Merrill. “And as a result of that, about 30,000 college students were dropped from food assistance earlier this year.”

Holcomb-Merrill said some college food pantries are now struggling to meet the need of low-income college students.

She expects the number will go down with new eligibility rules for food aid. The rules disqualify people with too many assets from getting assistance.

Holcomb-Merrill says several states have scrapped similar rules because they prevent many people who need help from getting it.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says a state agency is reassessing whether cars and trucks should be counted as assets for people receiving food stamps.

The state Department of Human Services last month began telling applicants with assets of more than $5,000 in bank accounts, second homes or vehicles with market values of more than $15,000 they'd no longer be eligible for assistance.

The Michigan League for Human Services says many people applying for food stamps are recently unemployed and requesting help for the first time.

Applicants say they need their cars to get to school or job interviews so they can get back on their feet financially.

Snyder told reporters Tuesday that criticism of the vehicle limit is a "valid issue" and that DHS officials are reviewing the policy.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan's plan to end welfare benefits for thousands of families has been at least temporarily blocked by a court order.

Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Geoffrey Neithercut issued a preliminary injunction Monday that would prevent the Michigan Department of Human Services from using a five-year lifetime limit based on federal regulations to end benefits for welfare recipients. Some families were expected to begin losing benefits under that policy in November.

The state filed an appeal Monday afternoon with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The five-year cutoff was adopted by the state department entering the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. It's separate from a new state law that sets a stricter four-year lifetime limit for receiving welfare benefits.

Roughly 11,000 cases would be affected by the five-year limit.

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.

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.

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.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Snyder wrapping up in Asia, highlights mining in the U.P. as one business opportunity

Governor Rick Snyder is wrapping up his trip in Asia with a visit to Seoul, South Korea. Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports the governor is expected to sign an agreement with the Governor of  Gyeonggi Province. The agreement states that Michigan and the province will work together to establish trade.

Of his visit to China, Snyder said he was surprised by the positive response he received from businesses. "Many of them are seriously looking at Michigan already as a good place to do business," Snyder said. He pointed to mining copper or other deposits in the U.P. as one business opportunity for Chinese companies.

Welfare recipients file class action lawsuit against state

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.

For some, that cap starts tomorrow (October 1).

Some recipients facing the cap have filed a class action lawsuit. From the Detroit News:

The lawsuit, filed against Human Services Director Maura Corrigan, said immediate intervention is needed to prevent more than 25,000 parents and children from losing benefits. The welfare recipients from Saginaw, Genesee and Macomb counties asked a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed the legislation Sept. 6 and said the state would offer exemptions to those with disabilities that prevent them from working.

Cost of new cars higher as a result of price fixing? The U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division announced that several Japanese executives have plead guilty in a price-fixing scheme: 

Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd., a supplier of automotive wire harnesses and related products, headquartered in Tokyo, has agreed to plead guilty and to pay a $200 million fine for its role in a criminal price-fixing and bid-rigging conspiracy involving the sale of parts to automobile manufacturers...  Three executives, who are Japanese nationals, have also agreed to plead guilty and to serve prison time in the United States ranging from a year and a day to 18 months. 

DOJ officials say these are the first charges "as a result of its ongoing international cartel investigation of price fixing and bid rigging in the auto parts industry."

My favorite new magazine is nice to look at, isn’t printed on paper, and has eye-opening new information about our state twice a week. It’s called Bridge, and it is published online by the non-partisan, non-profit Center for Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Best of all, it’s free. The title comes from the magazine’s purpose, which is to inform citizens in both peninsulas about the serious issues facing our state -- but do so in an interesting, well-written way, according to Center for Michigan founder Phil Power.

Michigan’s homeless shelters may be the next step for people losing their state welfare benefits next month.    And that worries an advocate for Michigan’s homeless.   More than 12 thousand families will be kicked out of Michigan’s welfare programs when the new 48 month limit on state cash assistance benefits takes effect October 1st. 

Eric Hufnagel expects most will be sustained by family and local charities.   But the executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness fears some will turn to local homeless shelters.  Hufnagel says local shelters are preparing for an influx of new clients, but decreasing government aid for shelters means it will be difficult.  

“We may not have the services that we need for some of those folks who are limited and no longer are receiving cash assistance.”   

Hufnagel expects only a small number of people losing their welfare benefits will turn to shelters initially.   But he says that tide will rise as religious groups and other charities find they cannot meet the need.

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.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Residents involved in roughly 12,500 welfare cases in Michigan could lose benefits under a stricter, four-year lifetime limit that has received final approval in the Michigan Legislature.

The Republican-led House passed the legislation with 73-34 votes Wednesday mostly along party lines.

The measures will go to Gov. Rick Snyder.

The welfare limit already has been approved as part of the state budget that kicks in Oct. 1. Lawmakers plan to put the cap in a separate state statute to help implement the budget plan. The state's current four-year limit on welfare benefits would expire Sept. 30 unless the Legislature revises or extends the limitations.

The revised welfare limits have fewer exemptions than the four-year limit now in state law.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

Michigan lawmakers are expected to resume votes to impose a stricter, four-year limit on receiving welfare benefits.

The votes could come Wednesday with the Michigan Legislature scheduled to meet for full sessions.

The welfare limit already has been approved as part of the state budget that kicks in Oct. 1. Lawmakers plan to put the cap in a separate state statute to help implement the budget plan.

Michigan already has a four-year cap on welfare benefits but the new version of the limit would grant fewer exceptions.

Critics say the tougher limits would boot roughly 12,000 families off public assistance.

Lawmakers might also continue votes aimed at requiring many public employees to pay more for their health insurance coverage.

Human services advocates say many families still don’t know whether they will lose their cash assistance if the Legislature approves a four-year lifetime cap on benefits.

Legislative analysis estimates more than 12,000 cash assistance cases would be closed on October 1 if lawmakers approve the cap.

Judy Putnam of the Michigan League for Human Services says the state should look more closely into who would be affected by that cap.

“Two-thirds of the caseload on assistance are children, and the average age of a child on assistance is seven," says Putnam.

"That’s a second grader.”

Putnam says the state has not provided enough information to families who would have their cash assistance cut off October 1.  

“If it passes, this will give us the harshest time limits in the Midwest," Putnam says.

"Indiana cuts families off after two years on assistance, except that they only subtract the money for the adult. They still give the money for the kids."

Putnam says many people who receive cash assistance are unaware or confused about how they would be affected by the change.

Putnam hopes Governor Rick Snyder will change his mind and step in to at least phase out cash assistance, rather than cut it off.

"As it is we’re just saying ‘No more cash assistance, you’ve had enough.’ The problem is is that there aren’t jobs available. That might make sense if there were a lot of entry-level jobs available, with transportation to get to those jobs. But we all know that that’s not the case."

Snyder called on the Legislature to approve the measure, which would save the state an estimated $65 million dollars in the coming fiscal year.

Ben Rollman / Flickr

Michigan lawmakers want legislation in place to improve parental involvement in schools. The lack of involvement is seen as one cause of Michigan’s low education scores.

Representative Bob Genetski of Saugatuck is a Republican. He says welfare reform is necessary for education reform.

“I believe much more in workfare than in welfare,” Genetski said. “I think that we need to instill in our kids that nothing comes free and that you earn everything you get.”

Representative Tim Melton of Auburn Hills is a Democrat. He says Child Protective Services should be involved if younger children don’t come to school every day.

“These kids are going to end up in the system either way,” Melton said. “If they’re not showing up at school, that’s an early warning sign of child neglect.”

Melton says Child Protective Services has said they don’t have the resources to take this project on.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

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.

Here's some additional material on the welfare limit bill passed by the Michigan Senate today from Rick Pluta.

UPDATE:

The Michigan Senate split along party lines to approve a four-year lifetime limit on welfare benefits.

 The House is expected to concur with the Senate version, and Governor Rick Snyder will almost certainly sign it because the budget relies on more than 60 million dollars in savings from the benefits cap.

It also means 12,600 families will lose benefits come October first.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Increasing rates of prescription drug deaths in Michigan

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise across the nation, and Michigan is no exception.

Detroit Free Press medical writer Patricia Anstett has a piece highlighting the problems in the state. From the article:

In Michigan, more residents now die from prescription drug abuse than from heroin and cocaine combined, a federal registry shows. In 2009, the latest year data are available, 457 Michiganders died of overdoses from one or more prescription drugs, up from 409 deaths the year before.

"We're seeing an alarming trend that continues to increase," said Larry Scott, manager of the prevention section of Michigan's Bureau of Substance Abuse and Addiction.

One in four people seeking emergency care for prescription drug abuse were younger than 25.

Michigan legislature working on proposal to cap welfare benefits

Under a proposal being considered in the Michigan legislature, there would be a four-year life limit on welfare benefits in Michigan.

From the Saginaw News:

The state Senate this week is expected to consider its version of bill sponsored by state Rep. Kenneth B. Horn that could end some poor Michigan families’ welfare benefits as soon as October.

Horn, R-Frankenmuth, wrote the proposed legislation that creates a 48-month, retroactive limit on direct cash assistance. People who have been receiving assistance since 2007 would be the first affected.

House bills 4409 and 4410 are expected to go before the Michigan Senate on Wednesday. The bill's sponsor expects them to pass.

HUD secretary to make announcement this morning on reviving urban centers

Shaun Donovan, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary, is expected to unveil an economic plan in Detroit this morning.

From the Associated Press:

Donovan is scheduled to announce the initiative Monday morning in Detroit alongside Mayor Dave Bing and other government leaders at a loft development near downtown. He also is to speak at noon to the Detroit Economic Club at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel.

The department says Donovan is to discuss a new Obama administration approach to strengthening cities that involves working with them. He also plans to outline challenges facing those cities as well steps the administration already is taking at the local and national levels.

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