700 families get to keep cash welfare benefits

About 700 families who can’t hold jobs because they’re caring for seriously ill or disabled family members will continue to receive welfare cash assistance, under the terms of a welfare reform bill awaiting the signature of Gov. Rick Snyder.

The bill codifies policies put in place by the Department of Human Services in the fall of 2011 that have removed about 15,000 families from cash assistance by enforcing lifetime benefit caps.

Bridge Magazine reported in March that among the families kicked off welfare were about 700 Michigan who were on cash assistance because the only able-bodied adult had to stay home to care for a seriously ill or disabled spouse or child.

“I’ve seen stories on how (welfare reform) has impacted people who have the ability to work, but there are not many stories about how it affects those who cannot,” said Tammy McFalls, whose husband has end-stage renal failure and is legally blind, in March. “If I go to work, I put my family at risk -- my husband could die. Where does this leave us?”

Such families had been exempted from welfare work requirements before the reform. Several families told Bridge that DHS workers had told them that it was cheaper for taxpayers to provide cash assistance (which averaged about $400 a month) to have the able-bodied adult stay at home than for taxpayers to pay for a health-care worker to come to the home while the able-bodied adult went to work.

The disabled family member had to qualify for federal Social Security disability for the family to be considered for the exemption. Families had to be certified by a doctor annually that there was a need for around-the-clock care.

An amendment added on the floor of the House of Representatives by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, before final passage of the bill exempted the 700 families from cash assistance time limits.

Jackie Doig, senior staff attorney for the Center for Civil Justice, which sued DHS over the policies, called the caretaker exemption a “small victory” in a bill that cemented in law the policies she feels hurt the poor.

For those 700 families, though, the victory was huge. “I am very grateful the Legislature took action to protect the $400 a month payment my family receives because I am needed at home to care for my two children with multiple disabilities,” Megan Smith of Flint said in a news release from CCJ.

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