Michigan tightens limits on welfare

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a tighter limit on how long residents can draw welfare benefits into law yesterday. The bill signed yesterday places a strict 48 month lifetime limit on welfare cash assistance. Another bill moving through the state legislature would further limit where and when people can use that cash assistance – prohibiting them from withdrawing money at casinos are using benefit cards to purchase lottery tickets. Governor Snyder says the measures are designed to return welfare to its original role as temporary assistance.

Most welfare recipients in the state get a $500 per month cash benefit that comes on a ‘Bridge’ card which can be used like a debit or credit card to spend and withdraw money for bills, food and other expenses. In 2006, the state passed a four year lifetime limit on benefits but caseworkers were given more leeway in issuing extensions. The new bill limits this leeway to individuals who are disabled or elderly.

Once the cash benefit runs out, individuals will still be eligible for food and health care assistance in the form of fixed non-cash benefits. Supporters of the bill say that given the state’s fiscal situation the government simply can’t afford to keep extending cash benefits beyond the four year limit. Advocates for the poor point to Michigan’s dismal jobs picture as one of the key reasons the benefits are often extended.

Another bill currently moving through the statehouse would further limit what individuals can do with their cash benefits. If the bill passes the Senate, individuals who have bridge cards would not be able to use the cards to withdraw cash at casino ATMs, or buy alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets.

“We are returning cash assistance to its original intent as a transitional program to help families while they work toward self-sufficiency and also preserving our state’s integral safety net for families most in need,” Snyder said.

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