May 3, 2011

MCC: Statement on Welfare Reform Legislation

LANSING (MCC) – Michigan Catholic Conference released the following statement opposing legislation passed by the House Families, Children and Seniors committee today that seeks to reform the state’s welfare system by diminishing the number of caseloads and increasing the penalties for those found to be in noncompliance:

“It is regrettable that the legislation passed out of committee this morning will only create more cracks through which families and children will fall,” said Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy Tom Hickson.

“During testimony before the committee several weeks ago the Conference encouraged members to abandon plans to reform the Family Independence Program in light of the fact that the 2006 welfare reform legislation was determined to be working. Unfortunately, the committee has chosen to proceed with measures that will heighten the suffering many of our fellow Michigan citizens and their children are facing today.”

While the Conference recognizes the exemptions that are built into the legislation, and supports the income disregard increase that will allow recipients to work more hours while receiving benefits, it opposes House Bills 4409 and 4410 for the following three reasons:

1. The 48-month lifetime cap for assistance, and the retroactive nature of the legislation, if it were to be enacted, would mean some 12,600 families would immediately lose public assistance. This is akin to changing the rules in the middle of the game. Without any support mechanism built into the legislation for those who will lose assistance, it is inevitable that thousands of families and children will plunge into a dire situation.

2. The legislation shifts the penalty structure for noncompliance in the Jobs, Education and Training (JET) program to a three month ban for the first occasion, six months for the second, and a lifetime ban from public assistance for a third occasion of noncompliance. A lifetime ban on assistance is poor public policy for two reasons:
  • It fails to take into consideration those who are able to find employment but later find themselves in need of assistance due to job loss or any other unforeseen circumstance;
  • Only those with children are eligible to enroll in the Family Independence Program. The legislation fails to address the impact it will have on the children of those who have made repeated mistakes and will be banned for life from receiving assistance.
3. It is highly unfortunate that the legislation does not take into consideration the numerous counties in Michigan where the unemployment levels are up to double the state average. Where are jobs to be found in Lake County, for example, where over sixty percent of the property in the county is publicly owned? Simply put, there are no jobs in these areas, and those who will be kicked off of assistance likely do not have the financial means or ability to relocate immediately.

“Unless the above listed concerns are addressed, the Conference will continue to oppose this legislation on behalf of the most vulnerable residents of Michigan who have no other means to sustain a dignified quality of life,” said Hickson.

Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.

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