How Michigan ‘games’ the welfare-to-work system

What exactly does it mean to be poor in Detroit? The numbers tell a complicated story. (Photo by Jeffrey Smith via Flickr; used under Creative Commons license) 

Over the past 20 years, Michigan has spent roughly a half-billion dollars annually on what it characterizes as welfare. In return, Washington has rewarded the state with an even greater amount – $775 million a year in federal block grants – which, when joined together, are supposed to help the poor get off public assistance and join the workforce.

But a Bridge analysis reveals Michigan is increasingly diverting welfare-to-work funds to programs that provide neither cash assistance to the poorest families, nor the job-training skills they need to escape poverty.

Nationally, half of all the welfare money controlled by states goes to core programs intended to get those on welfare back to work – cash assistance, child care, and work-related initiatives. In Michigan, it’s less than 25 percent, one of the lowest rates in the country. Records show the state has used much of this money to plug shortfalls in the state budget, or to help families that hardly fit the definition of destitute.

Given this record, how has Michigan kept the spigot of federal welfare dollars flowing its way? Michigan takes advantage of (legal) loopholes that allow the state to inflate to the feds how much it actually sets aside to help low-income residents return to work.

“Michigan has done everything it can to avoid spending money on needy families. It uses federal funds to supplant state funds and fill budget holes,” said Peter Germanis, a former Reagan Administration official who now works for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a report published in May. In several critical analyses of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, Germanis singled out the state for what he terms “gaming” its welfare spending to win more federal matching funds.

Michigan’s dubious handling of welfare grants emerges as Washington appears poised to give states even more authority over how federal funds are spent. President-elect Donald Trump has signaled that he may also convert Medicaid – which provides medical coverage to the poor – into a block-grant program. Medicaid funds 46 percent of all births in Michigan and covers more than 2.3 million people.

Both current and former state officials, in Republican and Democratic administrations, defend the state’s handling of, and explanations for, how it has spent TANF money. The program provided flexibility during difficult economic times and the solutions found continued to help the poor, they said.

“The goal is for families to be self-sufficient and we want families to be self-sufficient,” said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

“What we always strive to do is help people get off public assistance.”

The Michigan method

The Clinton-era welfare reform deal of 1996 was intended to give states more flexibility to get low-income residents off public assistance and back to work. The theory being that once the poor secured jobs, states could more nimbly shift welfare funds to child care and work support programs to help people stay in the workforce.

But over time, some states began to shift federal funding to fill other budget needs, or to replace (rather than complement) the state’s share of welfare funding. With the help of a Massachusetts consulting firm, Michigan learned that it could devote less money to core welfare programs by labeling funds it already spent on other programs as welfare spending.

So it is that Michigan has co-opted the philanthropy of third-party charities, food banks and foundations, such as the United Way, to count as the state's welfare spending. It has labeled hundreds of millions of dollars in K-12 education dollars for at-risk students as “new spending” on welfare, even though the programs remained largely unchanged for years. Michigan calculated the volunteer efforts of state workers as in-kind spending by the state.

And earlier this year, legislators tapped $400,000 in TANF money to pay for a program that "must promote childbirth" for pregnant women, as well as alternatives to abortion such as adoption.

Critics see the state’s expanded definition of welfare spending as a shell game that has compromised the point of welfare-to-work programs. In effect, they argue, Michigan has replaced its own welfare obligations with federal dollars, while lowering overall assistance to the poor.

So while the books show state welfare spending has remained level, the number of Michigan families actually getting cash aid fell by half between 2007 and 2013, even as more people lost jobs and poverty rose during the Great Recession.

In the 2007 fiscal year, for instance, more than 76,000 Michigan families received cash aid, which covered more than one-in-three families living in poverty. By the 2013 fiscal year, with even more families in poverty, the number getting cash aid fell below 40,000.

Bridge recently reported on one way in which Michigan has made questionable use of TANF funds. Over the past decade, the state has spent more than a billion dollars from the welfare program on college scholarships, with money often going to middle and upper-income students attending expensive private Michigan colleges, including students from families earning more than $100,000.

State officials defend the scholarships as meeting the federal test for welfare spending. Their rationale: students who attend college are less likely to have children out of wedlock.

Yet as the state was claiming to spend enough on welfare programs to qualify for federal funds, it was also enacting policies that triggered huge declines in the number of people getting core welfare aid.

The state adopted some of the most stringent thresholds in the country to qualify for child care assistance, with an income cutoff of just under $24,000 for a family of three. Only one state – Kentucky – had a lower limit. From 2005 to 2013, the number of parents getting child care help – one of the primary ways to help the poor return to work – fell from 65,000 to 22,000, a 70 percent decline. Child care spending fell from $115.8 million to $19.7 million.

“Michigan is not using the money for what it was about – (aid for) the families while they transition back to work,” said Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington that is focused on reducing poverty and inequality.

The cuts – made under Democratic and Republican administrations – didn’t come because the economy soared and poverty fell: There were more families in poverty in the 2013-14 fiscal year than at the beginning of the recession, in 2006-07.

Schott acknowledges that the budget manipulations of welfare funds were legal and allowable under the welfare reform law, and Michigan is one of many states that does the same. But CBPP considers Michigan among the worst.

“Is this really what they should be doing with the money?” she said.

How we got here

When former President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act in 1996, promising to “end welfare as we know it,” 88 out of every 100 Michigan families in poverty was getting cash assistance, well above the national average.

The law, signed with bipartisan support and hailed as a victory by conservatives, granted states wide latitude in how they spent welfare money. Programs were expected to help put the poor on the path to employment while putting a time limit – at first, five years – on how long they could receive cash assistance.

In return, the feds wanted to ensure states kept up their own obligations to the poor. So in order to get TANF money from Washington, states had to show they were continuing to spend up to 80 percent of the money they’d devoted to low-income family assistance before the 1996 deal on core services for the poor.

Showing this “maintenance of effort,” as the feds call it, proved difficult in Michigan, which for much of the past two decades has struggled to balance its state budget amid declining revenues and a reluctance to raise taxes. The more lawmakers could label other, existing expenditures as state welfare spending, the less money the state would actually have to budget for these programs, while still remaining eligible for the TANF contributions from Washington.

“Things were so tight,” said Mitch Bean, former director of the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency, which provides analysis for lawmakers. “We were scrambling. Resources were down so badly. (The state was) always finding ways around rules and regulation to maximize federal money.”

“We tried every trick in the book,” Bean said of state budget officials.

During the 2007-08 fiscal year, at the onset of the Great Recession, the administration of Gov. Jennifer Granholm hired a Massachusetts consulting firm, Public Consulting Group (PCG), to look at the TANF program with instructions to “maximize revenue.”

PCG, which works with states across the country, figured out the state could take money used for college scholarships and transfer that money to the budget of the Department of Human Services (now called the Department of Health and Human Services). This would look like new spending on welfare-related programs – a move necessary to meet federal spending thresholds.

The state then took TANF dollars in the DHS budget and sent them to replace the scholarship money that was lost. However, this replacement scholarship money would still be considered as welfare spending, the state declared, because it met one of the goals of welfare, lowering the incidence of out-of-wedlock births. (Studies show that college gradutes are less likely to have unplanned pregnancies).

Neither program lost a penny. And the state retained its federal spending.

It would be one of several TANF-related budget moves over the years, some authored by PCG in subsequent years, and others proposed by state bureaucrats.

In 2010, PCG came up with another money-saving strategy. When spending on welfare-related programs fell as legislators cut funding across the budget, the state was in jeopardy of losing some of its TANF money because it hadn’t spent enough of its own money.

So with the state needing to identify millions more to secure the full federal match, PCG found cash in the K-12 budget: Money already being used to help at-risk students – reading programs, alternative education, health clinics – was relabeled as welfare spending. The state had previously counted some of that money toward its commitment to the poor but in 2010 doubled down – identifying $127.2 million as welfare-related spending, up from $54.6 million the year before. Welfare spending hadn’t increased at all, but how it was counted changed drastically.

“We were able to receive the maximum amount of (federal matching) funding because of what they were doing,” said Wheaton, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Over the years, PCG was paid millions of dollars to help the state, earning a commission on every dollar it helped the state ascribe to welfare spending.

Over those same years, state leaders were making it even harder for people who had lost a job or couldn’t find a new one to get aid. It passed a four-year lifetime cap on welfare benefits, adopted an “asset test” that meant recipients had to have less than $5,000 in assets (homes and the first $15,000 worth of vehicles didn’t count) to get aid. And it made recipients participate in a 21-day assessment period – up from three days – before they could draw an aid check.

The result: cash assistance caseloads plummeted. While the state once gave cash aid to 88 of every 100 families in poverty, by 2013-14 it was down to 18-in-100, below the national average of 23, a decline that disproportionately hit the urban poor. Poverty hadn’t declined so much as policies changed substantially, limiting opportunities for aid.

Gov. Snyder backed the changes, according to spokesman Ari Adler, because the previous welfare programs took too narrow a view of what kinds of programs would help recipients get off welfare. “Those (older) programs focus on one segment of someone’s life – without looking at the whole person and understanding what’s holding them back from success,” Adler wrote in an email response to Bridge.

“Governor Snyder believes that government can play an important role in helping Michiganders who find themselves in difficult times. That’s what TANF is all about,” Adler wrote.

Adler said the state still has programs for those who find “themselves in a tough position, whether it’s from lack of education, an illness, or a difficult life event – we need to get them back on their feet. So we have services available including TANF, the Healthy Michigan plan (the Medicaid expansion program, available through the Affordable Care Act, which covers 620,000 Michiganders), food assistance, child care and emergency services.”

But for Edward Hoort, interim director of the Center for Civil Justice, a Saginaw-based group that advocates for the poor, the hurdles erected to get those services are designed to limit, not help.

“The whole process is so vindictive now,” said Hoort, who said Lansing lawmakers won’t reconsider the matter. “They don’t want to change that. They don’t care,” he said.

State becomes charitable beneficiary

In the 2000s, billions more in federal TANF “contingency” funding was offered to states – the original lump sums to states of $16.5 billion had remained the same since 1996. But to get this additional federal money, the state needed to show it had upped its own commitment to welfare spending.

When the state couldn’t identify enough new money, PCG suggested Michigan reach beyond its own coffers to fulfill its spending goals – to the United Way, local food banks, private foundations and other charities.

“The whole process is so vindictive now. (Legislators) don’t want to change that. They don’t care.” – Edward Hoort, Center for Civil Justice

These outside organizations were told they could help Michigan get more federal welfare dollars, and it wouldn’t affect them or their tax status, so they agreed. All they had to do was allow the state to claim what these groups provided to the needy as part of the state’s spending obligations.

“When the state of Michigan approached us originally during challenging fiscal times the state was experiencing, we felt it was our opportunity to step up and help the state, to help them (qualify for) TANF contingency funds,” Scott Dzurka, president and CEO of the Michigan Association of United Ways, told Bridge.

Many others lent a hand and their balance sheet, from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to the Wayne County Children and Family Services, to the Food Bank of South Central Michigan.

“We wanted to do whatever we could to make sure that TANF funds were coming in to help vulnerable families,” said Ali Webb, director for Michigan programing for Kellogg, which spends over $50 million annually in the state, focusing on vulnerable children (Disclosure: Kellogg is a funder of The Center for Michigan, which includes Bridge).

Even workers in the Department of Human Services lent a hand: Their volunteer hours – acting as mentors, working at food banks – were counted. For every volunteer hour that qualified, the state added $22 toward the state’s maintenance-of-effort requirements. All told the state claimed $1.3 million from DHS volunteers in one year.

For a couple of years, the state successfully drew more federal funding by leveraging the money or effort of third parties.

But Dzurka said his organization noticed that after the boost in TANF funds were no longer available (the program was reduced after the recession), the state wanted to continue to claim United Way spending as part of the state’s welfare contributions. At that point, he said his organization declined to participate, fearing it would allow the state to reduce how much it was spending elsewhere on needy families.

If the state was going to use the charities’ spending as a way of avoiding its own, Dzurka said he wanted no part in it. He saw it as potentially hurting the very population the United Way was trying to help by limiting potential resources.

“We looked long and hard at that and raised concerns that really our resources may in fact be working against what we were trying to do (which was to supplement state poverty efforts, not replace them). And therefore many of our members backed away from contributing to the TANF MOE,” Dzurka said.

Cheap solution, big consequences

In 2007, Michigan also employed another tactic to avoid questions from Washington about the state’s own level of welfare spending. The initiative, called the Extended Family Independence Program (EFIP), actually kept people on welfare longer.

Under welfare-to-work rules, states had to prove that at least 50 percent of those getting cash assistance were working. If they couldn’t hit that target, the state would be fined. In some years, Michigan found it difficult to meet those levels. So someone within state government had an idea: For families coming off welfare because they are making too much money, the state would give them an “extended benefit” of $10 a month for six months. The payment was nominal but it allowed Michigan to continue to label higher-earning workers as welfare recipients – in effect, artificially extending their stay on welfare.

But an unknown cost of that program was discovered years later, after the state enacted tough four-year limits on cash assistance in 2011. Some families that took the extended-benefits money were kicked off cash assistance when they needed it later because those six months on EFIP were counted against their lifetime cap of four years of cash assistance.

So for $60 in benefits, some families have been kicked off welfare, losing out on potentially six months of aid, which for a family of three can be as high as $492 a month.

Anti-poverty groups have unsuccessfully lobbied the legislature to change the law so those EFIP months no longer count. “The whole backlash against welfare recipients is so strong,” said Hoort of the Center for Civil Justice.

Last in line

In a state budget that remains strapped, getting Lansing to ensure that money marked for welfare actually goes to families that most need help is a tough sell.

“In terms of bolstering the social safety net, I think there’s very little interest there,” said Craig Thiel, a senior research associate for the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, an independent non-partisan research organization. Thiel previously worked for the House Fiscal Agency.

“The real story,” said Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, which advocates for policies that reduce poverty, “is really trying to identify those who are living in Michigan who have not benefited from the recovery in Michigan.”

“The fact is those needs are not going to go away,” she said. “At some point the state is going to have to figure out how to pay for the things that pull at the budget.”

About The Author

Mike Wilkinson

Mike Wilkinson is Bridge’s computer-assisted reporting specialist. He can be reached here.

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Comments

Matt
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 8:07am
Another long drawn out story about how Michigan doesn't spend enough money on X,Y, and Z. With the implicit but unstated, we don't pay enough in taxes, under current. The good news not mentioned is that we are in a wicked labor shortage today and anyone who wants a job has one or can get get one.
Rick
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 9:55am
Not to worry; President Trump is going to raise wages for low paid workers. Yeah, sure...he's actually going to allow employers to find new ways to cheat workers out of their low wages.
sammelvin
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 4:30pm
in 1964 President Lyndon Bain Johnson signed "THE WAR ON PROVRTY "bill.This is americas longest WAR against IT own CITTZEN..
Michigan Observer
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 9:03pm
I am curious as to how many hours a year they are working.
David Zeman
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 9:44am
Actually, Matt, it's a story that should trouble conservatives as well as liberals. The main point isn't about whether or not enough money is devoted to welfare recipients. It is, instead, that program funds that are meant to get people OFF welfare and back into the workforce are being siphoned into other parts of the state budget, compromising one of the fundamental aims/policy strategies of Republican lawmakers at the federal and state level.
Michigan Observer
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 9:19pm
The question that needs to be answered is: did these tactics increase the amount of money for the poor over what otherwise would have been available? Is Mr. Zeman interested in money available for the poor or concerned with transferring money from successful Michigan citizens to the poor. Mayor Bill DeBlasio of New York City was guilty of that when the state of New York responded to his effort to fund preschool education by taxing rich New Yorkers by offering to pay for the program, and he insisted on raising taxes on the rich anyway.
Mary
Sun, 12/11/2016 - 9:10pm
The sad thing is that the Republicans will tell you that it is all perfectly legal. That's all they care about; not if what they do is moral or ethical. They really have no desire to help the poor because they would lose their whipping boy.
Le Roy G. Barnett
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 9:52am
Another revealing study by Bridge. Please continue to enlighten us by keeping your investigative reporters busy.
Steve Manor
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 9:55am
The objective has been to reduce help to individuals and increase welfare to the corporates. I am however quite shocked by the complicity of the United Way and other such groups in the State's efforts to cheat on Federal Aid. I always thought that our State was opposed to welfare "cheats"!
Mike Wilkinson
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 10:07am
Steve, The federal government has allowed state to use of third-party spending, like that from the United Way, as part of their 'local' match. But not all states do it. So in this regard they are not 'cheating'.
John Q. Public
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 6:23pm
Mike, that fact underscores the primary takeaway from the story: The petty illegal stuff government officials do isn't even remotely as bothersome as the egregious legal things they do.
Michigan Observer
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 9:30pm
I am curious as to whether Mr. Dzurka's fears were realized. He said, "At that point, he said his organization declined to participate, fearing it would allow the state to reduce how much it was spending elsewhere on needy families." Did that happen?
Grady
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 9:59am
How do we define poverty in 2016 compared to 100 years ago? 50 years ago? 10 years ago? Today, in living in poverty could mean living with A/C, Internet, Smart Phones, free school lunch, Head Start, housing vouchers, Cable TV, XBox, Jordans, and a recent car. That was not the case not too long ago as poverty meant something different and we need to rethink how we look at things in 2016. How did your grandparents define poverty during the Depression? A bit different?
David J
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 11:11am
You are kidding me... can you name me one family living in poverty that lives with all these items you mention?
Grady
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 4:17pm
below the poverty line is based on income just about every family I know that lives in "poverty" has all of the items I mentioned in Ypsilanti - or most of them get your head out of the clouds ... I even forgot to mention tablets
Grady
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 4:21pm
or take a drive through various Section 8 structures in Ypsi and see the nice cars in the lot all the time ... these are not "guests" - the people living there drive nicer cars than I do - why? because they work and have money from all the benefits they receive. This is nothing new to this region. Yes, many do not have the items I mentioned but many do. My point is, we have to look at how we view poverty different By Ken McIntyre When Americans think of poverty, we tend to picture people who can’t adequately shelter, clothe, and feed themselves or their families. When the Census Bureau defines “poverty,” though, it winds up painting more than 40 million Americans — one in seven — as “poor.” Census officials continue to grossly exaggerate the numbers of the poor, creating a false picture in the public mind of widespread material deprivation, writes Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Robert Rector in a new paper. “Most news stories on poverty feature homeless families, people living in crumbling shacks, or lines of the downtrodden eating in soup kitchens,” Rector says. “The actual living conditions of America’s poor are far different from these images.” Congress is tying itself in knots figuring out how to cut spending and bring down a $14 trillion national debt. Lawmakers might well take a much closer look at the nearly a trillion dollars spent each year on welfare even though many recipients aren’t what the typical American would recognize as poor and in need of government assistance. What is poverty? Americans might well be surprised to learn from other government data that the overwhelming majority of those defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau were well-housed and adequately fed even in the recession year 2009. About 4 percent of them did temporarily become homeless. Data from the Department of Energy and other agencies show that the average poor family, as defined by Census officials: ● Lives in a home that is in good repair, not crowded, and equipped with air conditioning, clothes washer and dryer, and cable or satellite TV service. ● Prepares meals in a kitchen with a refrigerator, coffee maker and microwave as well as oven and stove. ● Enjoys two color TVs, a DVD player, VCR and — if children are there — an Xbox, PlayStation, or other video game system. ● Had enough money in the past year to meet essential needs, including adequate food and medical care. Rather than report such detailed surveys, Rector and co-author Rachel Sheffield write, the media “amplified” the Census Bureau’s annual misrepresentation of poverty over the past 40 years. News reports routinely suggest that poor Americans typically are homeless and hungry — and U.S. foes and rivals such as Iran, China, and Russia are delighted to report the same. “Regrettably, most discussions of poverty in the U.S. rely on sensationalism, exaggeration, and misinformation,” Rector says. “But an effective anti-poverty policy must be based on an accurate assessment of actual living conditions and the causes of deprivation.”
David J
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 11:00pm
Ah, let's talk about the 14 trillion dollar debt. The debt bought on by the Bush administration in beginning two wars and giving tax cuts neither of which the nation couldn't afford. Sorry, you can quote your facts until the cows come home but, we still do have a problem with poverty in America. Yes, I can find abuses but, everyone in poverty is not trying to scam the government, I have seen children without enough food to eat or clothes to wear. I have seen people go without medical or dental care because they could not afford the service. And, just as this article points out, I have seen the diversion of money intended to help the poor.
George
Sun, 12/11/2016 - 2:02pm
Did you bother to read the chart concerning the number of people in the ENTIRE state of Michigan who are getting direct welfare? If I read it correctly it's about 35,000! They must all live in Ypsilanti!!!
Grady
Fri, 12/09/2016 - 9:37am
Nice pivot - blame Bush! Yes there is problem but until we define poverty in 2016 in a way that understand the world we live in, the conversations do not go anywhere. I never said people were scamming the govt - they get the benefits and lead their lives. I pointed out, three times now and you simply ignore the point, that the prior images of poverty (living in shacks, waiting in line for bread, and no clothes) are obsolete in Michigan in 2016.
sammelvin
Fri, 12/09/2016 - 11:23am
to david J also ..in 2004 then bush and Congress raided the Social Security Lockbox of $ 1.5 TRILLOIN and issued It to AIG an insurance Company and the BANKS...thay ehe foreclosed on homeowners..One Local Congressmen in Michigan Boosted of foreclosure on 80 000 Home ,so now he is a millionaire.. check your local state rep.and congressmen! the poverty limit in 1964 was is $ 23 000 your grandparents that have worked and save donor even come closed to that number/ lot of the POOR are service men..there families ,,,,,!
Rhonda
Sat, 03/11/2017 - 10:47am

I know of families too that get so much $ on their Bridge Cards they actually sell them for cash. After reading this I see "how to cheat the system " actually starts in the system! No wonder some have no problem cheating. Everyone is cheating someone! Smh!!

Linda Brauer
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 12:20pm
My mom said growing up during the Depression wasn't as hard as being poor, now, and that was before the Recession of 2008! Though she wore clothes made out of burlap flour sacks, slept in the kitchen, near the stove, a Relief truck delivered food to their door, and her family had to move around a lot, --she said, at least, during the Depression, in Chicago, nobody had anything, so being poor wasn't humiliating.
Le Roy G. Barnett
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 10:30pm
Linda, my female ancestors also made garments from flour sacks. However, these bags were made from cotton, not burlap. Burlap fiber is too coarse to hold flour without leaking. For more information plus pictures, Google "flour sack clothes."
Linda Brauer
Mon, 01/16/2017 - 9:23am

That's a relief! I hope my mom didn't have to wear anything made of burlap! But, even if you're right, it adds more support to the point about The Great Depression being the good old days compared to life, today, because, "then, everyone was in the same boat." There wasn't the stigma, shame, blame, isolation, criticism, and marginalization that people in poverty experience today. Today's Great Economic Divide, between the Haves and Have Nots, leaves disadvantaged people to be viewed as deserving what they get, and as taking up too much space. It's hard to get a job if you don't have an address, reliable transportation, affordable childcare, or front tooth! You may not hear from them because all they have left is their dignity... "the deafening silence of oppression." People shouldn't have to beg. No one should be viewed as expendable.

Mary Peterson
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 10:03am
If there is one thing I have learned about politicians is that the ends justify the means. Whether or not something is moral or ethical doesn't matter as long as it is legal. The poor are the whipping boys for today's society.
Michigan Observer
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 9:36pm
I'm curious. What would justify the means if not the ends?
Peter Dale
Fri, 12/09/2016 - 12:57pm
The means are the ends, or, at best, they can not be separated from them.
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 10:07am
Please do a similar investigation of how CDBG monies are spent in different cities throughout Michigan. Our City Council of Jackson spends CDBG monies on fixing up political friends homes with Granite Counters, demolitions of vacant homes, and salaries of the bloated City Inspection Department.
Jay
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 10:55am
Former legislators won't admit this, but any chance they had of diverting funds to their own districts to make themselves look good, they took advantage of it. Mitch Bean is correct in that they tried every trick in the book, and he was involved directly or indirectly in putting many of those tricks in place, and he was paid very well to make those tricks happen.
Tom
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 11:15am
It would be interesting if Bridge did a little historical work and took a look at what happened in Michigan under Gov. engler During the Reagan administration. While the governor was making the rounds of news shows like Nightline touting the way Michigan had reduced the number of people on welfare programs, many of these people were getting more assistance from SSI intended for those with disabilities. Poor families were told by state employees in the welfare system to seek federal disability funds for children who may have some learning difficulties or behavior problems. This led to a proliferation in parents seeking to have their children labeled with a special education designation by the schools that they could then use with the SSA to request a monthly benefit for each child with a disability. As a principal in a poor community I witnessed a huge increase in parents who literally demanded that their children get a special education label, a label that often lowered expectations and self esteem for the entire school career of many children who were more than capable of succeeding without this kind of negative tag. I learned the extent of the welfare shell game being played in Michigan after some calls to Washington and some discussions with workers in the disibility determination department of the Social Security offices. I was told that many people in my area were receiving as much as $400 per month per child with this SSI "alternative" to state welfare assistance, an amount far greater than they would ever have received from the state. Our governor bragged about fiscal responsibility and an end to welfare dependence while children were used as tickets to even greater benefits and dependence. Parents became angry with educators when testing failed to show the need to label their children as having some special education eligibility or disability. While it is difficult to break the cycle of generational poverty and welfare dependence, it is sometimes impossible to shed the disability designations assigned to children during their school years. Sneaky welfare maneuvering by our state is nothing new. Check it out.
John
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 12:24pm
Very good points Tom! And the tragedy has been compounded: these same kids, thanks to their designation, have been first in line for powerful pharmaceutical drugs ostensibly designed to target their learning disabilities. Even the conservative medical establishment is beginning to question the efficacy of these drugs, and their serious side effects. If you are young and poor in this country, you are much more likely to be medicated, and not only by the standard range of drugs targeting learning disabilities. Increasingly, psychotropic drugs designed to threat serious mental disorders are getting prescribed to children. Who is paying pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars to "medicate" these kids? Taxpayers. Your comments and the article remind us that just about everyone has a role to play in the ongoing exploitation and disenfranchisement of the poor. It doesn't seem to matter the political ideology or motivating intentions. Perhaps because the poor themselves seem to be largely excluded from the decision-making process . . .
Linda Brauer
Mon, 01/16/2017 - 3:37pm

Tom and John, I believe what Tom was referring to, about schools being too quick to put kids in special ed, is outdated. It might have been true 25 years ago, but now it can be hard to get help for kids. Schools no longer receive special ed funding on a per student basis, so there is no monetary incentive for schools to put kids in special ed, who don't need it. (I am basing this on what Judith Heumann said when I attended a national conference in Wash. DC, when she was the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services at the US Department of Education, during the Clinton Administration.) She explained that districts are given a lump sum, based on a percentage of the number of students the fed. govt. assumes have disabilities. At that time, she said 6% of the student population was assumed to be eligible for special ed. It might be double that, now, though, from what I\'92ve heard. The district still doesn't get enough to cover the costs, though. John, on what do you base your concern about \'93overmedicating\'94 kids? I would appreciate understanding where you\'92re coming from, so we can learn from each other. We would not want to overgeneralize, either way.

Sue Grange
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 12:32pm
Tom, I can attest to the truth in your post. Engler was so proud of the fact that single adults were kicked off of Michigan's rolls. Where did they go? to SSI. Shifting problems rather than solving problems is the shell game played with people's lives.
John Q. Public
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 6:15pm
"It would be interesting if Bridge did a little historical work and took a look at what happened in Michigan under Gov. engler During the Reagan administration." I suspect such an article would be very short.
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 12:34pm
Forgot to add the City Councils latest diversion of $740K of CDBG monies: to make new apartments in the commercial district. This CDBG money was originally designated to help low-income homeowners make repairs to their homes throughout our City. 650 homes have been demolished in Jackson, most were just left vacant because of many sub-prime meltdown reasons, not one home was inspected by a structural engineer. All homes were demolished in low-income, and minority distressed neighborhoods and historically designated neighborhoods.
duane
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 4:07pm
Why should anyone be surprised, this appears to be a classic example of managing the system, whether Washington, Lansing, Detroit, and too many places in between. It seems like 'good intention' lacking results expectations, performance metrics and 'milestones,' and disciplined accountability. Until those who advocate for such programs, government and non-government, are willing to be results oriented and focused on measurable results the reality will be 'gaming' the system for those who have results expectations [protecting pet programs, maintaining staffing levels, growing spending/budgets, raising taxes]. The choice is keep increasing the spending or help people change their lives. Expectations: [the following are ideas for discussion, the ones use should be developed by those whose money is being spent.] Results; how many people/family getting jobs, per month or quarter or semi-annually or annually Performance metrics; a 2000 hrs per year paid employment, hourly rate at or above $15/hour, skills training program enrollment to improve value to employer, demonstrating employer work ethic [on time, respectful, properly attired, effectively communicating in English, etc.]. Minimum number of people placed each quarter, number of people still employed reported by quarter, number of people still employed 2 years after leaving program, 75% of those placed, number of people in the program for 2 years or in the program for an accumulation of 2 years in the past 5 years. Verification; program assessment by those directly involve in the program operation annual report, 2nd party verification of practices vs protocols, sampling verification of data, report and recommendation and identify successes [specific practices]. Legislature review of reports.
Michigan Observer
Fri, 12/09/2016 - 9:22pm
Duane is quite right when he says, "It seems like ‘good intention’ lacking results expectations, performance metrics and ‘milestones,’ and disciplined accountability." People like Gilda Jacobs and the Bridge staff are not interested in results. Good intentions as demonstrated by the transfer of resources are entirely sufficient; results are a trivial consideration.
samemlvin
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 4:17pm
woopydoo .i just got my food stamps cut again , this time by $ 1.00 last time sept.2016 by 80%
sammelvin
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 4:27pm
our great SS check is increasing by $ 3.00 in jan.2016 and the landlord has raised the rent by $ 30-$150 ,with the blessing of MSDA,,,DTE increased the bill by $ 8.00 all year long.the reason so in 4 years DTE can/will build a COALPLANT? geeeeeh and all I wanted was the Tv to watch in our community room?seniorcenter turned "ON" all the time not only when the office is open 8-5 Pm Mon-Friand all that for being OLD/free. guy in jail get to watch to 10PM everyday! any help coming?we ar e 170 senior...cityhall....nochange...
sammelvin
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 4:32pm
Michigan worser record on spending.worst collecting Childsupport only 18% ...
sammelvin
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 4:37pm
Foodbanks in there yearly statement show over $ 30 000 send to our building...but nnonononononono.ifthey did we could eat three meals a day...and also desert. food banks, charities, trihtshops do not create Paying jobs....we have lost over 8 groceries store in town and many other business closed or left. So they whole ..was/is game..for the elite ...
sammelvin
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 4:40pm
When working years ago ALL employees HAD to "VOLUNTEER" to have a deduction for UnitedWAY taken out of our Paycheck in OCT. we the employees cold not deduct that from our incomeTax.but the EMPLOYER got to deduct all of the emplyees amount of there taxes and still due.!
Mary1950
Fri, 12/09/2016 - 6:12am
What can Michigan citizens do on a daily basis to help correct this situation?
duane
Sat, 12/10/2016 - 1:28pm
Mary1950, It depends on what you want to address, is it the results programs of helping people change their lives, more effective [getting better results for the money] spending, the manipulation of the system [moving dollars to support programs], etc. I don't know the answer to any of the those or other questions, but I believe that if we pick one and describe it specifically with the help of readers we [you, me, and the readers] could identify some actions that could be used individually which should have a collective impact. What is most frustrating thing you found in this article [not what I mentioned but what you reacted to most strongly]?
jdk
Fri, 12/09/2016 - 9:36am
under which governor did this begin?
sammelvin
Fri, 12/09/2016 - 11:31am
here is a solution to that problem.our congressperson debbie Dingell ..will open 10 office in here district ..hired the Vets and women tp run the local offices at least 10 people open 6 days a week.9-4PM intake the information and income of people under the poverty limit and there ages...so every one has a start in life ..of $ 1000 a months for rent ,food etc. no drug illegal need apply...the Senior over 65 will get theres first .starting jan 2017,they have work and earned IT. this will make washington more countable for and save the State money on worker.etc etc.
sammelvin
Fri, 12/09/2016 - 11:35am
I forgot to mention there are 508 countries already giving there citizen BASIC LIVING Allowance.and NAMBIA in africa is one and finland ,switzerland..it is better economy then paying for prisoner.or increase security HomeLand etc etc
Kevin Grand
Sat, 12/10/2016 - 4:43pm
Considering that there are only less than 200 countries in the world currently (depending on whose numbers you refer to), that's an amazing accomplishment.
Kevin Grand
Sat, 12/10/2016 - 7:51am
After going through the article above and the comments below, here is one question that I'm surprised that Mr. Wilkinson had failed to ask: Exactly where does the federal government (or state government for that matter) have the authority to take money from one segment of its population and give it to another?

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