State Rep. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, tried for four years to reform Michigan’s welfare system for cash assistance. On his fifth try, bolstered by the solid Republican majorities in the House and Senate and a Republican governor brought in via the 2010 elections, Horn shepherded a massive reform effort into law. The keystone of that reform will take effect next month, when more than 11,000 Michigan families who’ve received cash assistance for more than 48 months will be banished from the system.
Horn spoke with Bridge Magazine this week about what he hopes the changes will accomplish:
Bridge: More than 11,000 families will be losing cash assistance next month because of welfare reform you authored. What will they do?
A: They’ll get jobs. The average cash assistance is $515 a month. That equates to a part-time job, 16 hours a week, at minimum wage. There are plenty of those jobs out there.
The other part of the reform is, there are other services for these families still available. They still have access to food assistance, and day care for their children so they can work.
Bridge: Why was this a problem that needed to be addressed?
A: We have people who have been on (cash assistance) for 12 to 14 years. It was time for it to end.
Bridge: Many people who have been on welfare for years have physical or mental challenges that make holding a job difficult. Others have grown up in a culture where receiving aid is a lifestyle – a generational poverty that is hard to break. How does this reform help these Michiganians become productive members of the economy?
A: People with disabilities are exempted from this cut-off. These are able-bodied adults who should be able to work, but refuse to. Right now we have a job training program (required for able-bodied welfare recipients) that isn’t running very efficiently. We have about a 21 percent compliance rate (meaning 21 percent of welfare recipients who are supposed to complete the work training actually finish the training.) Our almost exclusive contractor is Michigan Works. They’re struggling to get people to show up, and when they do show up, they quit.
Bridge: Is this as much a philosophical debate over the role of government in helping the poor, as it is an economic issue?
A: We, as a society, are saying, if you fall off your horse, we’re going to pick you up, dust you off and put you back on your horse. If you don’t want to get on your horse, then that’s a problem. Now, you now don’t earn money on welfare, you receive it. We’re asking people to earn it.
Bridge: What do you think we’ll know about welfare reform in six months that we don’t know now?
A: We’ll find out what 48 other states have already found out, that people will find their way in life, they’ll pick up a hammer or a paint brush and man up and feed their family. We have to pull this wagon together. I have confidence people will do the right thing.”