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48-Month Welfare Cap Clears Senate: MI Gov. expected to sign bill that would cut off monthly benefit payments for thousands

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48-month welfare cap clears Senate

Gov. Snyder expected to sign bill that would cut off monthly benefit payments for thousands

Karen Bouffard/ Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing— Michigan will have the strictest welfare limits in the Midwest if legislation passed by the Senate is signed into law.

The Senate on Wednesday put a lifetime cap on recipients of 48 months, a move that would immediately affect about 12,600 families statewide. The cap would be retroactive and cumulative, so families would begin to lose payments averaging $515 a month starting Oct. 1.

Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the legislation into law once it hits his desk.

Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri have five-year limits. Indiana has a 24-month limit, but only for adults; children's benefits have no time cap.

"The purpose of the 48-month limit is to ensure that resources are directed toward families that truly need them," said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe. "As the economy in Michigan improves with the legislation that has passed over the course of these first six months, we think that 48 months is an adequate amount of time for people to find employment."

The limits come on top of earlier legislation that cuts state jobless benefits to 20 weeks from 26 and a reduction in the earned income tax credit for the working poor. Medicaid benefits and food stamps have not been reduced.

Phyllis Browne, spokeswoman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said the House will concur with changes in the Senate-approved bills.

"This has been a priority of our caucus since Day One," Browne said.

The Senate acted on the legislation on the lone day it was in session this month, the first of a two-month summer break. The House is in session July 27. Both chambers will have a working day in August as well.

The bill was pushed through by the Republican majority over objections from critics who said it will precipitate a humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of people — including more than 20,000 children — lose financial support in the midst of a major recession with high unemployment and declining public support for charities.

The Family Independence Program payments are used for housing, utility bills and other essentials.

"This bill is draconian, damnable and unconscionable," Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit, said in a statement. "The fact that we are destroying a social safety net shows we have lost sight of the fundamental purpose of being elected, which is to protect the general welfare.

"We need legislation that promotes job creation, not legislation that takes food away from hungry children."

Democrats voted as a bloc against the legislation, which passed 24-12.

Republicans said Michigan can no longer afford lifetime welfare benefits. The legislation will save the state $77.4 million, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

Similar legislation has passed in the House, but the Senate added the Oct. 1 effective date and gave discretion to the state Department of Human Services to exempt some cases during the 2012 fiscal year. Republicans also raised the amount families can earn while receiving benefits.

"The governor believes this move is an important step in helping ensure public assistance is a bridge to family independence while also striking an appropriate balance with exemptions for hardship or incapacity," said Sara Wurfel, Snyder's spokeswoman.

Michigan until recently was one of just two states — Vermont was the other — to have lifetime welfare benefits. The Legislature imposed a 48-month limit in 2007, but many recipients were exempted, including those deemed to be making progress toward getting a job.

The two-bill package extends to all recipients a 48-month limit that now applies only to those eligible to participate in the state's Work First program and who live in an area where the Jobs, Education and Training program is available.

Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services, said communities are not prepared to deal with the thousands who will be left destitute when their benefits are slashed.

"I don't honestly think there are the kind of supports in communities to pick up the slack," she said. "Charitable contributions are down — we don't know what's going to happen to these folks."

Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield, unsuccessfully introduced an amendment to exempt people who live in counties where unemployment is 25 percent or more higher than the state unemployment rate.

The legislation also would:

Discount $200 plus 50 percent of a family's earnings when determining income eligibility for welfare benefits, allowing families to earn more and still qualify for welfare than under the current law, which discounts $200 plus 20 percent.

Disallow benefits for 19-year-olds who live in a home receiving welfare benefits.

Prohibit spending welfare benefits on lottery tickets, alcohol, tobacco, gambling or other nonessentials.


Edited by Lord Infamous

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