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Welfare Reform

MPLP Spring 2007 Public Benefits Section Newsletter Article

                Issue 33, Spring 2007

Welfare Reform

by Lisa Ruby, MPLP Public Benefits Attorney

The journey of welfare reform began back in 1996 with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA).  Ten years later, welfare reform has been revisited and revised, both nationally and at the state level.  Michigan will see its welfare programs drastically altered in the next year, with most changes implemented by September, 2007.

In 1996, PRWORA established a revised cash assistance program as a block grant to the states.  The new legislation required recipients to meet certain conditions in exchange for support, typically a work requirement, and it placed a lifetime limit of no more than 60 months of benefits paid by federal funds.  It also gave states more latitude in implementing experimental programs, generally focused on creating and maintaining employment opportunities for welfare recipients, the goal being self-sufficiency.  In 2004, a broad-based welfare reform work group in Michigan developed a new approach to creating permanent work force status for Department of Human Services (DHS) clients.  The JET (Jobs, Education and Training) program grew out of this and will soon be implemented statewide.

According to DHS, the JET program:

  • Uses a thorough up-front assessment and Family Self-Sufficiency Plan to tailor supports and services to the individual circumstances of recipient and family;
  • Expands educational and training opportunities so clients gain the skills they need to get a good paying job in high-demand fields;
  • Focuses career and technical training opportunities on jobs the Michigan economy has available (e.g., health care, construction);
  • Provides supportive services when clients face serious barriers to work, with the goal of reducing and removing those barriers so clients can participate in work or work preparation;
  • Provides advocacy and support for those who are making application for Supplemental Security Income; and
  • Extends post-employment support from 90 days to 180 days to help clients retain jobs and prepare a plan for advancement.

Two additional changes will greatly impact Michigan recipients.  Prior to this year, there was no time limit for cash assistance.  However, beginning on October 1, 2007, Family Independence Program (FIP) recipients will have a 48-month lifetime limit on receiving benefits. Any time spent on sanctions will still count towards the 48-month limit. A one-time 12-month extension is available to recipients who have received no more than two penalties after December 31, 2006 and no penalties within one year of applying for the extension. The 48-month clock is not retroactive. 

The duration of sanctions periods will also be increasing.  Beginning April 1, 2007 the first sanction will result in a 90 day termination of benefits, as will the second sanction. The third sanction will result in the loss of benefits for 12 months. The first sanction may be avoided if the recipient meets with the caseworker within 10 days of being notified of the sanction.  Non-compliance will be defined as quitting a job, being fired for misconduct/absenteeism, failure to participate in Work First activities and non-compliance with the family self-sufficiency plan.  However, good cause for non-compliance is included, such as: temporary illness, lack of childcare, transportation issues, illegal work environment, or discrimination.

One Family Self-Sufficiency Plan (FSSP) will be developed for each family.  The FSSP will specifically outline services to be provided, explicit action steps for the family and the case manager, and expected time frames for completion of these and other self-sufficiency-related actions.  Sanctions will be imposed based on violations of this plan, so it is crucially important that individuals participate in its development and understand their responsibilities before signing it.  These plans were in existence prior to the new welfare reform but had not been consistently followed.  Advocates will now have the opportunity to help individuals negotiate plans that they are able to follow and that meet the specific needs of each family.  Once the plan is in place, it will be more difficult to argue why an individual has not been able to keep his or her agreements.

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