For most Michigan residents, Oct. 1st was just another day, but it became a benchmark in the lives of others. To some affected, it could have been his or her personal D-Day. To others, it was a positive step toward Michigan’s self-sufficiency and economic improvement.
What came was the beginning of the federal and state government’s new fiscal years. With it arrived the enactment of Michigan’s new House Bills – 4409, 4410 – regarding stricter time enforcements for those in the Family Independence Program or FIP.
Roughly 41,000 Michigan residents – 31,000 of them children – are potentially affected by the new legislation. About 10,000 people (7,500 of them children) lost their FIP benefits, more commonly known as “cash benefits.”
Since the law has gone into effect, multiple lawsuits were filed against the Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan.
The outcry from residents and advocates complained the termination of benefit notices weren’t sent out in a timely manner.
It was also said the little information was given was confusing. This lack of timeliness and vague description was thought to be a violation of due process and 14th Amendment rights.
From those lawsuits, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman initially halted the FIP changes. However, after further analysis he ruled that the FIP cuts would be back on, permitting new notification to FIP recipients. Those notices were mailed out Oct. 14th.
Barring any last-minute challenges, the FIP recipients are scheduled to lose their benefits tomorrow.
Even prior to the law taking effect, a plethora of residents were¬¬¬¬ distraught and outraged it was even an option.
Many notable public figures spoke out against the bill, including State Representative, David Rutledge and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Although there was a large outcry, many Eastern Michigan University students were taken by surprise.
Belinda Lillard, a sophomore student who aspires to be a veterinarian, was one of those students.
“…people that have had benefits have just been cut off,” she said. “That’s messed up, I didn’t even know about it. That’s just crazy.”
After speaking to several students on campus, it became clear the average student didn’t know what the new bills entailed but did know they existed.
“Yeah, I’ve heard of it, I don’t know a lot, but I’ve heard about it,” said EMU junior and business major Christina Tuckett. “My roommate was on it and she was just taken off of that and Medicaid. Mind you her whole family is poor and her little brother has epilepsy.”
The majority of the students’ confusion and concern was related to who has stopped receiving benefits, if the benefits apply to the bridge card’s food benefits, what the FIP is, and what will happen next.
Although the change is unfortunate, it’s hardly the first of its kind in Michigan. 2007 brought a four-year cash benefit limit to FIP by way of Jennifer Granholm. It was attached to the, then-new, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program,
Earlier that year, the federal government cut their TANF funding. Almost every state received 10 – 20 percent less than they had in prior years. With the weakened economy, many families began to lean on the TANF income, which drained the fund within the last quarter of 2007.
To “solve” the financial strain, Michigan’s current governor, Rick Snyder, enacted these new FIP restrictions, which retracted all the previous extensions and exemptions that made by previous governors. When Oct. 1st came around, all residents who reached or surpassed their four-year limit were retroactively terminated.
Although there are many critics, many others see the changes as a positive thing. Many families on FIP lost their benefits, but the changes also allowed many residents who normally would have been ineligible to receive FIP.
These changes went against what some students think is a fair amount of time to be on welfare, and that’s why many are not in agreement with the new bills.
“…It’s like flushing lives down the toilet,” said Jessyca Berkley, an EMU senior studying graphic design. “I’m doing what I can, I even signed a petition to get Rick Snyder fired.”
Matthew Bednarski, an EMU senior and accounting major said, “I think it’s fair, if they’ve already been on it for four years, they should have a job by then.”
This year, the state of Michigan is going to save around $75 million with the addition of these bills. But one wonders, who’s going to save the children?
Whether the bills are justifiable or not, it’s important to remember the children are the ones who are losing out the most.
Children don’t have a voice to speak up with. How often do they picket on the streets, or stand around the office water cooler. Who’s their public defender?
Remember, the FIP is for families. That is why such a large number of kids are involved. The number of children who are losing benefits is a staggering 75 percent of those who will be affected by the bill. Not facing these horrific truths is only aiding those who are behind the bills, turning a blind eye toward those they will impact the most.
Perhaps we should have a welfare cap. In fact, almost every state does, most ranging from 2-4 years. Until Oct. 1st, Michigan and Vermont were the only states who, through exemptions and extensions, gave families an opportunity to receive assistance for more than four years. But was it fair to retroact the bill given our nation’s current economic state?
“I think if someone has a family and several kids under 18, they should be able to get 48 months of help, after that, obviously not. But I also think retroacting the bill wasn’t fair. ” EMU junior Dwain Phillips said.
Maybe a balanced approach is the right idea here. You can still be supportive of the bills, and at the same time be understanding of the severe effect it has on many vulnerable and voiceless citizens.