Gov. Gretchen Whitmer eases access to welfare in Michigan

LANSING — Low-income Michigan residents can have more money in the bank without losing access to public assistance under new policies announced Thursday by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Beginning Nov. 1, Michigan will allow residents with up to $15,000 in personal assets to remain eligible for cash, food and emergency relief assistance programs, including funding for winter home heating. The state will maintain strict income caps for welfare eligibility.

The administration of former Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, established some of the strictest asset limits in the country at $50 for State Emergency Relief, $3,000 for the Family Independence Program and $5,000 for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps. 

“This was cruel and unusual punishment for people who were struggling to have to jump through more barriers in order to get a basic need addressed,” Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, told Bridge Magazine after the state announcement. 

It’s not immediately known how many more residents will quality for assistance because of the new limits –  or how much they will cost the state, said Robert Gordon, the state’s health director. The biggest impact, though, likely will be on eligibility for food assistance, which is fully funded by the federal government, he said.

Related story: Baby, it’s cold outside, and new rules make it harder to get help in Michigan

Along with lifting asset limits, the Department of Health and Human Services will no longer count the value of a family vehicle as an asset in determining food assistance eligibility. In most cases, the state will also allow recipients to tell caseworkers their assets, rather than have them verified through a checklist.

That worries Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who is “extremely concerned that self reporting of assets will result in greater fraud and divert resources from vulnerable people who truly need assistance,” said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for the Clarklake Republican.

But Gordon said the new state budget provides his department with another $3.4 million to “step up efforts to identify errors and fraud.” The new rules will cut “red tape” and speed up the assistance application process for those most in need, he said 

“We can fight fraud without fighting families who are just trying to get help,” Gordon said in a press conference at the Greater Lansing Foodbank roughly 4 miles from the Michigan Capitol. 

The new rules “give families more stability in hard times because they won’t have to give up savings to get help,” Gordon said. “It will reduce the time and stress that individuals face when dealing with us, because it is hard enough dealing with a layoff or an illness.”

The changes come as President Donald Trump is reconsidering a 2002 policy that allowed states to set their own asset limits for welfare recipients.

At least 34 states have eliminated the asset test all together for food assistance, contrasting with Michigan rules that Whitmer said were “arbitrarily keeping people in poverty from accessing resources available to similarly situated people in other states.”

Michigan’s new asset limit for food assistance will be the second highest among the 16 states that have a test, according to data compiled by the health department. It’s asset limit for cash assistance will be the highest in the nation, aside from eight states that have no cap. 

As Bridge previously reported, Michigan changed its rules for home heating assistance last year under an umbrella program that prohibited residents from qualifying if they had more than $50 in the bank, a retirement account or even a funeral pre-payment.

Whitmer raised the asset limit to $500 earlier this year, and the cap will climb to $15,000 next month as residents begin to confront the cold Michigan winter. 

“A family struggling to keep their head above water shouldn’t have to be completely destitute to get a little help,” Whitmer said. “This is about ensuring that people have the ability to get up and to get by.”

Residents seeking assistance will still be required to prove their incomes to qualify for the programs. In Michigan, a single adult now qualifies for food stamps if he or she has a gross income of less than $2,024 a month, or $24,288 a year. A family of four qualifies if they have a gross household income of $4,184 a month, or $50,208 a year.

Chere Coleman of Michigan Community Action, which represents local assistance agencies across the state, said staffers had grown frustrated by the old asset limits that prevented assistance for residents who had a small amount of savings. 

“This actually discouraged customers and our families from building a savings account for emergency services,” she said. 

The new rules will give welfare recipients the ability to build personal savings for use in the event of a medical emergency, car repairs or to put their children through community college, Coleman said.

For most applicants for public assistance, the state will verify asset claims, but extra scrutiny will be given to applicants who report more than $10,000 in assets, officials said.  

State Rep. Matt Maddock, a first-term Milford Republican who worked the past 32 years as a bail bondsman, said he’s concerned by the new rules because he personally witnessed a “tremendous amount of fraud” within social welfare programs. 

“We’d have to go out to pick people up for skipping court, for example, and many of these people have had numerous Bridge cards on them,” he said, referencing cards used to access food assistance benefits. “I’ve been in homes and apartments where I’ve seen more than 100 Bridge cards, so there’s an entire black market that’s existed for many years.” 

Maddock said the Legislature should explore ways to challenge the new rules. He’s preparing to introduce a bill that would add a photograph to Bridge cards in order to limit their use to authorized recipients.

Former Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan aggressively fought welfare fraud and implemented new rules to ensure lottery winners were not eligible for public assistance. In 2012, she joined then-Attorney General Bill Schuette in announcing welfare fraud charges against a woman who had exploited a since-closed loophole to continue collecting benefits despite winning $1 million in a “Make Me Rich!” game.

After spotting a food stamp applicant arrive at a state office in a Hummer, Corrigan also successfully pushed to bar low-income residents from the program if they owned a vehicle worth more than $15,000, a restriction the Whitmer adminisraiton is now lifting. 

“I have great respect for the former director and think she did a lot of wonderful things for the department, but we should not visit the sins of a very few people on hundreds of Michiganders who are trying to get by,” Gordon said. “There are vastly better ways to deal with a person with a Hummer than punishing hundreds of thousands of people in the state.”

The Whitmer administration’s policy shift stands in contrast to efforts by the Trump administration to limit the ability of states to set their own food assistance eligibility requirements. Under a proposed federal rule, people who have assets of more than $2,250 or make more than 130 percent of the poverty line would lose eligibility.

In Michigan, an estimated 95,094 residents — roughly 12 percent of people who currently qualify — would lose monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits under the Trump administration rules, according to a recent analysis by the data and policy firm Mathematica.

The League for Public Policy, which advocates for economic opportunity, has long pushed for Michigan to fully eliminate public assistance asset limits, but doing so would require a change in state law. 

“With the current Legislature, we don’t see that as happening,” Jacobs said, referencing the Republican-led state House and Senate. “But being able to go in and change the policy to be more in line with the rest of the United States makes a lot of sense.

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Comments

David Medema
Thu, 10/17/2019 - 3:51pm

Such hypocrisy from the Senate majority leader. He is worried about fraudulent non-reporting of assets. yet he continues to resist transparency and the reporting of campaign contributions, reporting on receiving free meals, and so on. clean up the cesspool of unregulated and on reporting of campaign finances first, then you might dare have expectations of others.

Ann Farnell
Thu, 10/17/2019 - 6:11pm

republicans are obsessed with “ freeloaders” and Dem. Libs who are responsible for freeloaders. Not once does it enter their heads that the real freeloaders are the CEO’s who take home 238% more in salary and bonuses than the workers. Hedge Fund managers who finance for profit charter schools and then abandon the whole operation once the profit dries up aren’t freeloaders, but some body who can’t work is a freeloader. I am so sick of the Republican Party and everybody in it!

Mark
Fri, 10/18/2019 - 8:14am

I am tired of paying for Generational Comfortable Poverty as a Taxpayer. Most of these people should get food provided by Charities not the Government. You are more than free to donate to the Charities.

Cindy
Fri, 10/18/2019 - 12:25pm

These temporary methods are assistance for the desperate; usually involving the most vulnerable. If you have a job feel blessed!

Bob
Fri, 10/18/2019 - 3:09pm

Exactly Mark! After all, are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

Jill
Fri, 10/18/2019 - 3:32pm

If you don't like it here you are free to leave . Selfishness is not a skill set.

Jill
Fri, 10/18/2019 - 3:35pm

Me Too!!!

Kevin Grand
Thu, 10/17/2019 - 7:34pm

From each according to their ability, to each according to their "need".

Good plan.

Jill
Fri, 10/18/2019 - 3:34pm

Well said. People before money, what a novel concept in Michigan. Hope it continues.

Bones
Mon, 10/21/2019 - 9:53am

Beats the hell out of the neo-feudalist dystopia you clamor for

middle of the mit
Mon, 10/21/2019 - 10:24pm

Why are you quoting the Bible?

https://biblehub.com/kjv/acts/4.htm

32And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Nancy
Fri, 10/18/2019 - 9:16am

In Michigan most people need a car to get to work and they need savings for emergencies to improve their situation. If they don’t have these things their personal cycle of poverty will continue. Welfare should provide enough help to give people a chance to move to the next level.

Joe
Fri, 10/18/2019 - 4:43pm

So...we up the taxes to pay for these programs which causes an increase in the prices of goods and services which causes the taxes to increase etc.etc.etc. Stop the madness. The $ would be better spent on programs to increase jobs in the state which would increase the tax base which would create lower taxes and allow free enterprise to blossom again.

middle of the mit
Tue, 10/22/2019 - 11:33pm

And yet we barely do what the Bible tells us we should do as a Christian nation, but yet mammon is still King. And yet we give tax breaks to businesses, allow them Free Trade to bring their products here from third world hellholes, tariff free, bust unions and yet prices still rise and wages are stagnant and people here can no longer afford rent, all the while corporations are more profitable than they have ever been and they are still pushing jobs to third world hellholes where wages are crap. Why do you think they won't do that here? What is your excuse for that?

middle of the mit
Wed, 10/23/2019 - 12:27am

MAGA! Make America Great Again. When were you referring to? The 1950 's!

Check out what the tax rates were during that time. Need me to do it for you? OK! Are you ready for facts?

https://www.tax-brackets.org/federaltaxtable/1950

$200,000.00+ 91%

But you will tell me that the wealthy never paid that high of taxes because they used loopholes to avoid those taxes. And you are right. They used those loopholes to avoid that tax until around the turn of the century. How do I know? I observed it. I watched as my employer cut back on their end of year bonuses. And then when Bush the lessor was elected and he passed his tax cut, bonuses were done away with. That in and of itself is more than enough proof that anyone should need to prove that tax cuts don't trickle down. Go ahead, check out when credit started being how families started funding what they needed. Even though Governments are supposed to be run like families.

You do want to do this. Cognitive dissonance or not, you will learn.

The question you need to learn? What was the loophole they used? They paid their employees more in pay and or bonuses rather than pay taxes to the Federal Government. It's that simple. And if those corporations up and leave? Wouldn't you call that person non American? And since you believe that Corporations are people, what are Multinational Corporations? And why don't they have to be America first?

Maria
Sat, 10/19/2019 - 1:02pm

As a waitress I have been given bridge cards by customers who want to play the Lotto. When told they can't they go sell their cards for cash and come back. The abuse is out there, I have seen it over and over. Unless they find a way to curtail the fraud perpetrated on the taxpayers, this will only cause more abuses. I am not saying there aren't those that don't deserve it but because of the abusers less of what should be going to those who need it doesn't because of those taking advantage of the system. If you don't see that then you have your head buried in the sand.

Tracey
Sat, 10/19/2019 - 11:44pm

Those of us who are on disability and are unable to work, do not abuse the bridge card; we are the ones who are getting punished. Every few months our monthly amount gets cut with no explanation. We need this money to live on. Did I work before going on disability? Yes! I do not like using the Bridge Card, but I have no choice. Just don't take any more from us.

Tracey
Sat, 10/19/2019 - 11:44pm

Those of us who are on disability and are unable to work, do not abuse the bridge card; we are the ones who are getting punished. Every few months our monthly amount gets cut with no explanation. We need this money to live on. Did I work before going on disability? Yes! I do not like using the Bridge Card, but I have no choice. Just don't take any more from us.

middle of the mit
Sat, 10/19/2019 - 11:25pm

[[That worries Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who is “extremely concerned that self reporting of assets will result in greater fraud and divert resources from vulnerable people who truly need assistance,” said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for the Clarklake Republican.]]

Self regulation worries Mike Shirkey? Hey Mike! Do you worry that those who have left TOXIC superfund sites were not self-regulating? And do you now worry about all the taxpayer money that WE have to spend to make sure the citizens in those areas ARE NO LONGER harmed? Where were you when those companies WERE SELF-REGULATING and you allowed them to pollute? Do you ever wonder how many MI citizens have been hurt by corporate self regulation? Probably not.

[[State Rep. Matt Maddock, a first-term Milford Republican who worked the past 32 years as a bail bondsman, said he’s concerned by the new rules because he personally witnessed a “tremendous amount of fraud” within social welfare programs.

“We’d have to go out to pick people up for skipping court, for example, and many of these people have had numerous Bridge cards on them,” he said, referencing cards used to access food assistance benefits. “I’ve been in homes and apartments where I’ve seen more than 100 Bridge cards, so there’s an entire black market that’s existed for many years.” ]]

Yeah? Why didn't you bring it up in court? They are violating State law and Federal law. Why didn't you document and prove your cases? Come on man!

This is why "perception" and saying things without verification should be verboten.

Law and order republicans saying things for political gain without proving a dang thing!

That is politics!

John
Sun, 10/20/2019 - 8:47am

I believe this says it all.
“It’s not immediately known how many more residents will quality for assistance because of the new limits – or how much they will cost the state, said Robert Gordon, the state’s health director. The biggest impact, though, likely will be on eligibility for food assistance, which is fully funded by the federal government, he said.“

Anne Wolfe
Fri, 10/25/2019 - 11:28pm

$2,250 Eligibility limit for assistance? So If someone salts away over a thousand dollars or so by some amount, and gets paid a several hundred before there bills are paid, they could be in jeapordy or going over the limit? Once they pay their bills, buy food, etc. half to two thirds of the money could be gone......have an emergency and the rest is too.....a big emergency and they're homeless.......no reserve to pay rent, or taxes, or whatnot.....and so many intellects think people WANT to be homeless? These rules are a prescription for kicking people out into the streets, or motivating people to cheat......if you don't have family, friends, or some kind of a good safety net, you're a feather blowing in the wind......People - get real!!!! What are we taught growing up? Work hard, save, etc.! Then we make laws that poor people can't work hard and save? WHY?