Welfare Benefits Ending November First

By: Sherene Tagharobi Email
By: Sherene Tagharobi Email

It's official: cash assistance is running out.

"That is a federal lifetime limit of 60 months, the only exemption to that is if you are disabled," said Sheryl Thompson, acting deputy director of field operations at the Department of Human Services.

It turns out the state could be exempting cases due to "hardship," but it's choosing not to.

"Michigan is trying to be fiscally responsible, and we can no longer afford to provide lifetime assistance to people," said Thompson.

That 60-month federal limit has actually been around since 1996, but it was never enforced. Now it will be come November 1, along with the new state law that caps welfare benefits at 48 months.

"Michigan decided that over the years under both a democratic and republican governor that as long as people were complying, playing by the rules, looking for work, that they would not enforce that [federal] time limit," said Judy Putnam, spokesperson for the Michigan League for Human Services, a Lansing-based policy group.

And it's the decision to suddenly enforce that limit that will mean kicking the majority of affected families off welfare. The federal lifetime limit is to blame for 11,062 families, while the 48-month state cap is responsible for 100 families on top of that.

When that 48-month limit runs out, recipients can ask for a year extension if they are disabled or caring for someone who is, if they're a victim of domestic violence, or if they are older than 60 and are not eligible for SSI.

DHS sees these limits as a way to help Michigan families reach self-sufficiency.

"By assisting them in earning income, that helps them in the long run. It helps their family and helps create some stability as well," said Thompson.

But some say stability is the last thing these caps bring.

"We've been hearing from families worried about paying their bills, about keeping the heat on, feeding their famlies," said Putnam.

DHS says it'll help people find a job through Michigan Works for three months after their welfare benefits expire. It'll also help familes pay up to three months rent.

The benefits cutoff starts November first, but continues rolling from there. The Department of Human Services says by October of next year, 13,790 families will lose out on their benefits because of the federal cap. Another 1600 families will be cut off due to the 48-month state cap.


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