Since September, 46,000 children off cash assistance

March 28, 2012
Contact Judy Putnam at (517) 487-5436

46,000 kids have lost cash assistance since September
State hasn’t released case closure reasons yet

More than 46,000 children in Michigan are in families that have lost cash assistance since September, when the state started closing cases because of new time limits. A Genesee County judge ruled Tuesday, however, that the Department of Human Services exceeded its authority in using a 60-month limit with different rules than the 48-month limit enacted by the Legislature.

DHS has not yet released numbers on how many cases were actually closed due to time limits but the department reports monthly on the number of cases and people receiving benefits, which show a 30 percent drop between September 2011 and February 2012. Nearly 66,000 people, including 46,000 children, lost benefits.

“The dual time limits – one set by the Legislature and one set by the Department of Human Services – have created mass confusion for many vulnerable families with children in Michigan,’’ said Michigan League for Human Services Policy Director Karen Holcomb-Merrill. “The 60-month limit looks back to 1996 and does not take into account the circumstances of a recipient caring for a child or spouse with a disability.”

A recent report in Bridge magazine made it clear that this is not what the Legislature intended.

Though Michigan’s cash assistance program, the Family Independence Program that is also known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, has had time limits for years, exceptions were made for families that were struggling the most – such as taking care of a disabled spouse or child, living in an area of exceptionally high unemployment, or being a working family that simply did not make enough to survive.

Michigan lawmakers enacted a stricter 48-month limit on the benefits starting in October and the department started using a 60-month lifetime limit that removed all exceptions and started counting the 60 months back to 1996 when federal welfare reform was enacted.

“The economy is improving but we know that it hasn’t improved enough – especially for those with multiple barriers to employment — to make up for such a dramatic downsizing of this program,’’ Holcomb-Merrill said. “This means that more than 46,000 children are in families losing basic support, and some emergency providers report a growing demand for emergency food and shelter.’’

Click here for a table that shows the cuts by county from September to February, including the number of recipients, the number of children and the monthly amount cut from each county.  Note that the table represents all cases closed between September 2011 and February 2012.  An exact count of how many of the case closures were due to the stricter time limits is not available, but the drop is substantial enough to assume that many recipients lost their benefits when the new policies were implemented.

The 10 counties with the highest number of children losing cash assistance benefits:

Wayne: 25,759
Genesee: 5,068
Muskegon: 2,061
Kent: 1,919
Oakland: 1,791
Kalamazoo: 1,452
Macomb: 1,440
Saginaw: 1,380
Berrien: 712
Calhoun: 511
The Michigan League for Human Services is a statewide, nonpartisan policy and advocacy group dedicated to achieving economic security for all in Michigan. It is celebrating 100 years of research and advocacy in 2012.