Cash assistance time limits will hurt vulnerable families with children

Contact: Judy Putnam or Karen Holcomb-Merrill at MLHS (517) 487-5436
and Jackie Doig at CCJ at (989) 755-3120
May 3. 2011

Today’s vote in the House Family, Children and Seniors Committee to enact a stricter 48-month time limit on cash assistance would hurt very vulnerable families at a time of double-digit unemployment and at a time when other potential cuts target the same families.

The Center for Civil Justice and the Michigan League for Human Services joined in a protest of House Bills 4409 and 4410 that would eliminate cash assistance for 12,600 of the state’s poorest families with children. Many of those families are working but do not earn enough to leave cash assistance, called the Family Independence Program.

FIP offers a modest grant of up to $492 a month for a family of three. The new bills would remove protections that had balanced the need to get low-income parents into the workforce with the need to ensure vulnerable children are not placed at unreasonable risk when economic conditions or family barriers prevent families from becoming self-supporting.

“We already have a 48-month time limit that has common sense exemptions for families who are working and complying with work rules.  We should allow the current law to be fully implemented before making changes,’’ said Center for Civil Justice Senior Staff Attorney Jackie Doig. “We urge the House to reject these bills. Representatives should know that they will bring real harm to children in their districts.’’

The proposed exemptions take a punitive approach to achieve budget savings.  Under House Bill 4409, families would no longer have the opportunity to avoid a three-month loss of benefits for a first penalty if they fixed the problem immediately. The Department of Human Services would not be required to identify reasons for noncompliance and remove barriers to participation.

Also, no longer would the clock stop ticking on the 48-month limit for such reasons as caring for a disabled spouse or child, inability to find appropriate child care or a pregnancy with severe medical restrictions.

“Coupled with other potential cuts, including elimination of a $79 per child clothing allowance and the evisceration of the state Earned Income Tax Credit, we are really throwing new barriers in the way of families trying to work their way to independence,’’ said Michigan League for Human Services Policy Director Karen Holcomb-Merrill. “We should be encouraging these families, not finding new ways to make it harder to reach economic independence.’’

For a full analysis of the bills, see CCJ’s executive summary: Leaner and Meaner.

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CCJ is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which advocates for and with low-income persons and their allies.
The Center for Civil Justice is a nonprofit organization that advocates for and with low-income persons and their allies.

The Michigan League for Human Services is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy and advocacy group for low-income citizens. It has a network of more than 1,500 representing business, labor, human service professions, faith-based organizations as well as concerned citizens.