By Eric T. Campbell, Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen –
DETROIT — In a matter of days, Gov. Rick Snyder will sign legislation that will effectively discontinue welfare assistance for over 12,000 Michigan families. That bill, which goes into effect Oct. 1, will enforce a federal limit on cash assistance for long-term recipients. The policy will be applied retroactively, meaning that any family reaching the allotted 60-months on or after the Oct. 1 deadline will be cutoff immediately.
State organizations, charities and non-profits advocating for low-income residents are scrambling for information. Gilda Z. Jacobs, president of the Michigan League for Human Services, says that based on a two-child-per-family model, up to 25,000 children will be affected by the welfare reform bill.
“Our feeling is that, at a time when Michigan is struggling so much, our governor should be helping citizens become more sustainable, instead of putting up barriers to economic stability,” Jacobs said. “A lot of people use this cash assistance to pay for rent. So we’re concerned about the increase of homeless children. There really isn’t the capacity to absorb these families into the community.”
Welfare reform bills 4409 and 4410 have passed both the Michigan House and Senate. A letter from the Department of Human Resources went out on Aug. 9 to 14,000 Michigan families stating, “Your federal lifetime limit for cash assistance will likely be reached on Oct. 1, 2011.” The dual bills amend Michigan’s Social Welfare Act and make revisions to the Family Independence Program (FIP), which designates cash assistance for low-income families with children.
In response to the Republican-backed welfare reform, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) is spearheading a non-violent protest action, dubbed Resurrection Marches, every Thursday, outside the Michigan State Building on W. Grand Boulevard.
Angela Johnson, a mother of five and a grandmother of five, carried an oversized copy of the Aug. 9 letter sent out by the DHS during the Aug. 25 march. She has been receiving state assistance on and off, depending on her employment status, since 1980. After years of working for the Wayne County Treasurers Office, she was laid off in July 2010. When her unemployment runs out, she will be unable to receive welfare now that Michigan is enforcing the federal time limit.
“I’ve had jobs that have allowed me to come out of the system,” Johnson told the Michigan Citizen. “I have my unemployment as my source of income right now. Once that expires, I won’t have any income coming in. I’ll have my food stamps and medical until they cut that.”
MWRO’s Miriam Kramer says workers like Johnson, who for years have been in and out of the system, will be affected immediately, because of the welfare bill’s time limitation includes all time spent by a welfare recipient in the system.
“Snyder has cut across the board when it comes to the working class,” Kramer told the Michigan Citizen. “Be you unemployed and on public assistance, be you employed, whatever, he’s attacking every element of the working class. And now today, we’ve been out here trying to make people understand: If you stand by and let this go down, then you’re next on the totem pole.”
Kramer says welfare reform will split families as the state removes children from homes that are without resources and income.
“Common sense tells us that’s what this will lead to — if your water’s shut off, your children will get taken,” Kramer continued. “I’m asking the people to get out here, join us in this fight. Not only the picketing, but all the other stuff we come up with because we’ve got to start fighting. This is war not only on the poor today, but everybody else that’s a part of the working class.”
The Michigan League for Human Services has recently completed a county-by-county breakdown showing that over half of all welfare recipients affected by Snyder’s welfare reform reside in Wayne County.
The demographic implications were not lost on U.S. Rep. John Conyers as he joined the MWRO march on Aug. 25. He spoke to the Michigan Citizen, saying: “This is an enormous step backward and it’s typical of what’s going on in Lansing and so I ask that everyone inquire of the state representatives and state senators that voted for this bill to kindly explain to us why. Because I want history to show who was supporting this incredible backwards step in terms of providing social services to the citizens of this state.”