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Issue Alert - 48 month time limit on cash assistance

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Date:

Aug 28, 2011

Program Area:

FIP

Issue Summary:

House bills 4409 and 4410, awaiting the signature of Governor Snyder, eliminate most exceptions to the 48-month lifetime cap on the length of time a person can collect cash welfare benefits, originally signed into law in 2007. The new law will also increase sanctions for violating certain welfare work or study requirements, no longer define 19 year old high school students as “children” eligible for welfare, require legal resident status be checked using the federal “e-verify” system in certain cases, require more frequent eligibility reviews, and more.

Persons Affected:

Recipients of cash assistance (Family Independence Payments, or FIP)

For More Information:

Michigan Poverty Law Program 611 Church Street, Suite 4A Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3000 (734) 998-6100 ext. 117 FAX: (734) 998-9125 email: lruby@lsscm.org Center for Civil Justice 320 S. Washington, 2nd Floor Saginaw, MI 48607 (989) 755-3120, (800)724-7441 Fax: (989) 755-3558 E-mail: info@ccj-mi.org


Background

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program. The TANF program sets a lifetime assistance limit of 60 months for families that include an adult head of household who receives assistance using federal TANF dollars, in whole or in part. States may impose a shorter limit. Michigan has provided extensions to the five-year limit on cash assistance under the category of hardship. Caseworkers permitted all applicants to extend their benefits under hardship with two criteria: financial need and children in the home. The 'new' 48 month state limit on cash assistance may come as a surprise to some, but Michigan already had a four-year cap on welfare benefits. The original law was signed by Governor Jennifer Granholm in October, 2007.

What's Happening?

The proposed law was presented to Governor Snyder for signature on August 26, 2011. The new law will eliminate most exceptions to the 48-month lifetime cap on the length of time a person can collect cash welfare benefits. There is no grandfather clause, which tightens the original 2007 benefits cap that allowed for benefit extensions if the recipient was in job training or unable to work. That means most recipients who are or will be past 48 months on Oct. 1, 2011, will be cut off. More than 12,600 welfare recipients and their children will lose monthly checks averaging $511. It is estimated that 25,000 children will be cut off. Lifetime limits do NOT apply to any other benefits, including Food Assistance and Medicaid. The policy on lifetime limits does not apply to recipients receiving cash benefits because of disability. DHS sent letters to long-term recipients warning that the state will start enforcing federal 60-month limits for the first time in state history. In addition, clients will be receiving two more letters from DHS if they are determined to be at the 48-month limit. Under other provisions in the bills, children aged 19 and attending high school are no longer eligible to receive FIP on their parent’s case. FIP cases where eligibility is approved based on the 19 year old in the home will close. Families with other children in the home will have a reduction in benefit. Also, minor parents have the requirement of attending school full time or the case will close. The Department of Human Services (DHS) would have to reassess a recipient’s eligibility for every 12 months instead of every 24 months. Included in each Family Self Sufficiency Plan (FSSP) will be the statement prohibiting the use of FIP benefits to purchase lottery tickets, alcohol, or tobacco for gambling or for illegal activities or any other nonessential items. Penalties for non-compliance will change as follows: First instance – three months Second instance – six months Third instance – lifetime There will no longer be an excused first instance of non-compliance. All employment and training sanction months are countable toward the client’s 48 month lifetime limit. Effective October 1, 2011, months that do NOT count toward the 48 month lifetime limit include months that a client is: Disabled more than 90 days; Domestic Violence deferral; A recipient aged 65 or older; A child; and A child age 16 to 18 who is attending elementary or secondary school full-time. Individuals who are caring for a disabled spouse or child can get a 12-month extension on the 48 month limit but will be ineligible once they hit the 60 month federal limit. There is one positive change - recipients will be able to earn more money on the job without jeopardizing their benefits.

What Should Advocates Do?

Please post on the public benefits listserve what you are hearing about/seeing in your respective communities and local DHS offices. Currently, DHS is not keeping the public adequately informed of how this policy will be implemented and/or how clients will be able to access additional supports. It is vital that we keep one another informed as implementation of this policy unfolds.

What Should Clients Do?

Three letters are being sent out to clients who are in danger of being cut off at the 48 month limit. The first letter went out on August 9, 2011, indicating that the family had likely reached the federal limit of 60 months. The second letter went out on or about August 29, 2011, and informed families that their benefits were being cut off on October 1, 2011. This second letter offers the client an appointment to meet with their caseworker "to review possible resources" for the family. DHS has also issued this statement: "The Michigan Department of Human Services announced today that it will extend rent assistance and job training programs for those recipients affected by the lifetime limits on cash assistance and who are actively seeking employment. The department is also initiating a new job navigator program, in conjunction with community partners, that will connect those seeking employment with trained volunteers who will assist participants in securing a job. " Clients should do their best to attend these appointments to discuss what may be available to them. Finally, it is expected that clients will receive a Negative Action Notice that states their benefits will be cut off on October 1, 2011. It is unclear whether or not these notices will contain hearing rights. Clients should request a hearing and contact their local legal services office immediately.

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services offices handle these types of cases, and they do not charge a fee. You can locate various sources of legal and related services, including the free legal aid office that serves your county, at MichiganLegalAid.org. You can also look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738.