House and Senate human services budgets fail to address the needs of families and children in poverty

pdficonMay 2017
Pat Sorenson, Senior Policy Analyst

Budget Brief JPG USE THIS ONEAfter years of underfunding, both the Michigan Senate and House have passed budget bills that fail to address the needs of children and families in poverty. Since 2007, state lawmakers have restricted eligibility for public assistance through more stringent lifetime limits, toughened sanctions and asset tests.

The result has been a steep decline in the number of Michigan children eligible for the state’s primary income assistance program while childhood poverty has remained stubbornly high—with nearly 1 of every 4 children in the state living below the poverty line.

BB House and senate human services budgets fail graphic 1In addition, 4 of every 10 food assistance recipients in Michigan are children. The combination of basic income and food assistance can help stabilize families, making it possible for them to meet their children’s basic needs while they find employment that will support their family. For those unable to work due to age or disability, access to nutritious food is an absolute necessity for maintaining their health and avoiding emergency or long-term healthcare costs.

The Senate and House versions of the human services budget—which is part of the larger budget for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS)—will now be considered by a joint House/Senate conference committee that will convene to iron out differences.

ACCESS TO HEALTHY FOOD

Food Assistance “Heat and Eat” Policy: Effective this year (the 2017 budget year), the Michigan Legislature approved $6.8 million in state funding to reinstate the “heat and eat” policy that allows Michigan to leverage additional federal funds and increase food assistance benefits for nearly 340,000 Michigan families, seniors and people with disabilities. For 2018, the governor recommends that the policy be continued as a smart way to leverage more than $300 million in federal funding to prevent hunger.

  • The Senate used federal energy assistance money to continue the “heat and eat” policy.
  • The House agreed with the governor to provide continued state funding for “heat and eat” food assistance benefits.

The League supports state funding for “heat and eat” as a way to prevent hunger for children, families, seniors and people with disabilities.

INCOME AND OTHER SUPPORTS TO STABILIZE FAMILIES

Family Independence Program (FIP) Benefits: The number of Michigan families receiving FIP is at its lowest level since 1957, and the governor and Legislature are projecting that it will continue to fall to only 17,000 in 2018. As a result of falling caseloads, the FIP budget is expected to drop from $98 million this year to only $76 million in 2018—a reduction of 22%.

With fewer children being served by FIP and benefit levels stalled (maximum of $492 per month for a family of three with average monthly payments of $366), children are living in deep poverty, and parents are finding it hard to both care for their children and find and keep work. In recognition of this hardship, the governor proposed an increase in the FIP yearly clothing allowance from $140 per child to $200 for a total cost of $2.7 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.

  • The Senate rejected the increase in the annual FIP clothing allowance.
  • The House included under $900,000 to increase the yearly benefit from $140 to $160.

The League supports the governor’s recommendation to increase the annual FIP clothing allowance as a small step toward addressing the insufficiency of income assistance programs for children and their parents.

Expand the Pathways to Potential Program: The governor recommended $5.6 million to expand the Pathways to Potential program that places “success coaches” in schools to identify barriers faced by students and their families and make appropriate referrals for needed services. The program is currently in 259 schools in 34 counties.

  • The Senate did not fund the expansion but included a $100 placeholder to ensure continued discussions in the joint House/Senate conference committee.
  • The House rejected the governor’s recommendation to increase funding for Pathways to Potential.

The League supports the governor’s recommendation to expand Pathways to Potential, which is a promising model for meaningful school/community partnerships and a two-generational approach to school success for all children.

Increased Support for Homeless Shelters: An estimated 100,000 people in Michigan are either homeless or imminently at risk of homelessness, and families with children make up half of the homeless population. More than half of the state’s homeless are African-American, and the senior homeless population continues to grow significantly each year.1

In recognition of the problem, the governor increased the daily rate provided to emergency homeless shelters from $12 per night per person to $16, at a total cost of $3.7 million. The governor indicated that he intends to recommend another $4 per person increase in the 2019 budget year.

  • The Senate rejected the governor’s increase in payments to homeless shelters, but included a $100 placeholder to ensure continued discussions in the joint House/Senate conference committee.
  • The House agreed with the governor to increase funding for homeless shelters.

The League supports the governor’s recommendation to increase funding for emergency homeless shelters, as well as policy and budget changes that could prevent homelessness such as: 1) increases in income assistance payments; 2) housing policies that could prevent homelessness; and 3) tax changes that benefit workers with low wages including a restoration of the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit.

CHILD AND ADULT SAFETY

Child Abuse and Neglect Programs: More than 1 of every 100 children in Michigan lives in a family that has been investigated for potential child abuse or neglect and over 37,000 are confirmed victims.2 As of February 2017, the MDHHS was responsible for the supervision of 12,800 children in out-of-home care, with the majority placed with relatives, in licensed foster homes, child caring institutions or emergency shelters.3

While most families with low incomes are not more likely to abuse or neglect their children, living in poverty can limit the ability of parents to provide for their children’s basic needs. The vast majority (81%) of confirmed victims in Michigan’s child welfare system are there because of “neglect,” which can include a failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter or medical care.

More than a decade ago, the state was sued by a national child advocacy organization for its failure to move children quickly into safe, stable and permanent homes; provide children in foster care with adequate medical, dental and mental health services; and prepare children who age-out of the foster care system. To comply with a court settlement agreement resulting from that lawsuit, the state has increased resources for “tail-end” child welfare services, but relatively little has been done to prevent child neglect, including efforts to move children out of poverty.

For 2018, the governor recommended an additional $3.6 million for: 1) regional resource teams to recruit, train and support foster families; and 2) to expand the Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative (MYOI) to all Michigan counties (currently in 64 of Michigan’s 83 counties). The MYOI helps young people who are in or have recently exited foster care make a successful transition to independent living through housing, education, employment and community engagement services.

The governor also cut “one-time” funding—approved in the 2017 budget year—to expand the Parent Partner and Family Reunification programs. Funds are being used this year in Genesee and Macomb counties to prevent the need for foster care, ensure that children are more quickly reunified with their families when it is safe to do so, and assist parents after children are returned home.

  • The Senate rejected the governor’s recommendation to increase funding for regional resource teams and the Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative by $3.6 million, but included a $100 placeholder to ensure further discussion in the joint House/Senate conference committee. The Senate agreed with the governor to reduce prevention funding by $6 million.
  • The House agreed with the governor on regional resource teams and the Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative, increasing funding by $3.6 million. The House also reduced prevention funding by $6 million, and further cut funding for the Fostering Futures program by $750,000.

The League strongly advocates for increased funding for services that can strengthen families, prevent child neglect, and reduce the need for out-of-home placements for children. The state’s efforts to improve its child welfare system as required by the court settlement agreement are important, and while progress has been made, more needs to be done to prevent child abuse and neglect by strengthening families—including ensuring parents can meet their children’s basic needs, as well as access sufficient mental health and other services.

Adult Services: As Michigan’s population ages, the need for services for seniors and people with disabilities continues to grow. A 2014 audit found that Michigan was unable to respond quickly to reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation of adults—in large part because of staffing shortages.

In response, the governor recommended $11.3 million to hire 95 new workers who can assist adults with high needs by providing protective services, independent living services and adult community placement assistance.

  • The Senate reduced the number of new adult services workers to 71 (with a delay in their hiring) resulting in total spending of $1.9 million in the 2018 budget year.
  • The House cut the number of new adult services workers in half to 47, at a cost of $5.6 million.

The League supports the governor’s expansion in funding for adult services workers to ensure that seniors and people with disabilities are safe. Between 2002 and 2015, the number of adults needing protection from the state more than tripled, while the number of staff fell by 14%.

ENDNOTES

  1. Ending Homelessness in Michigan: 2015 Annual Report, Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
  2. 2017 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book: A Michigan Where All Kids Thrive, Michigan League for Public Policy.
  3. Children’s Services Agency: Foster Care Overview, Presentation to the House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (March 9, 2017).

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Cutting off Assistance to Families Won’t Improve School Attendance, Will Drive Up Poverty

Pushing families further into poverty will not increase school attendance rates. The Michigan Legislature is considering House Bill 4041 that would codify current Department of Human Services policy that terminates Family Independence Program, or cash assistance, for an entire family if a child between the ages of 6 and 15 is considered to be truant by their local school district. An entire family is punished for the actions of one child. If the student is 16 or older, only the truant child is removed from the case. The bill will not boost school attendance rates, but it will increase the number of children and families living in extreme poverty.

DHS policy should have the goal of helping families, not driving them deeper into economic crisis. The cash assistance program helps families living in extreme poverty (income under half of the poverty level, or $9,385 for a family of three). Families receiving FIP have very few resources and already face a number of challenges, including inconsistent work schedules; lack of access to quality, affordable child care; and reliable transportation. Eliminating their cash assistance will do nothing to address these challenges and will make life more difficult for their children. The League has the following concerns with HB 4041:

Codifying current DHS policy ties the hands of the department. It becomes much more difficult to change policy after it is made into law. The department would lose any flexibility to adapt its policy to better serve the needs of the people.

Barriers to attending school are not addressed. Four of the top 10 reasons for missing school, as identified by the Michigan School-Justice Partnership, deal with transportation, child care, and lack of appropriate clothing for the weather. Eliminating a family’s cash assistance will only make these issues worse. Working oneon-one with families to identify and resolve the underlying issues—without reducing their resources—is a much better route to ensure that a child is ready and able to learn at school. HB 4041 does not include any type of required intervention.

Lack of due process to appeal a decision. At times, an illness or other situation results in a high number of absences. These could be excused absences depending on the school attendance policy. Individual situations should be recognized, and families should have a clear process for appealing a decision that terminates their assistance. While DHS policy does include an appeals process, this proposed law does not.

Full-family sanction for families with children between 6 and 15 years old is severe. There may be cases in which a parent is doing everything in their power to get their 14year-old to school, but the child—for whatever reason—does not arrive or stay in school. Terminating assistance for the entire family for the actions of one child could make it more difficult for other children in the family to get to school.

Unclear definition of truancy or attendance policy. Without a statewide definition of truancy and the variances across school districts in how truancy is defined, there will be inequitable impact on children and families.

Child poverty remains unacceptably high. From 2006 to 2012, the rate of children living in poverty in Michigan grew by 35%. The economic recovery has not touched everyone. More than 70% of program participants are children with an average age of 7. Cutting off assistance will undoubtedly harm children in these families the most at a time when the governor’s dashboard calls for reducing childhood poverty.

House Bill 4041, and the related DHS policy, is not the way to improve attendance rates or the lives of these families in either the short or long run. Codifying this DHS policy will only contribute to increasing child poverty and the number of families living in extreme poverty.

 

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