Gongwer News Service recently asked the League to weigh in on the major changes to social services during the first decade of this century.
Here is what we compiled — 10 years condensed to less than 500 words.
The decade saw many more children, families and individuals in need of help in meeting basic needs – food, shelter, heat and clothing – as Michigan shed hundreds of thousands of jobs. The public safety net has been stretched to the breaking point in some places.
In the area of Medicaid, Michigan received many more federal dollars to pay for health care for low-income children, families and seniors. The portion paid by the federal government jumped from 55 percent in 2000 to 73 percent this fiscal year. There’s also been an incredible increase in recipients from just over 1 million a month in 2000 to 1.8 million in October 2009. Unfortunately, access to doctors is a problem. Fewer and fewer doctors will accept a patient on Medicaid.
Until July when optional services were cut, Michigan held the line on providing optional Medicaid services (dental services were cut in 2003 but later restored) for adults. These are services that the state isn’t required to provide but are considered health essentials. They include dental, vision, hearing and podiatry.
Food Assistance, a federal program formerly known as food stamps, also has seen a very dramatic rise, nearly tripling over the decade, from 580,000 people a month in 2000 to 1.65 million in October 2009.
While Medicaid and food assistance spending has grown dramatically, caseloads for cash assistance have remained relatively flat over the decade.
In 2004, the Family Independence Agency was renamed the Department of Human Services by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The Family Independence Program (a holdover FIA name from the administration of Gov. John Engler) served 206,000 people a month in 2000, rising to only 217,000 in October 2009, despite dramatically growing needs.
In this recession, only one third of children living in poverty got help from FIP. In previous recessions, two-thirds of children were helped by cash assistance. (For more on this, click here.)
Michigan has not changed its benefits or eligibility level, even to keep up with inflation, meaning you have to be poorer and poorer to qualify and the monthly grant covers less and less. The grant was increased by just $1 per person a month in 2008, the first increase in nearly two decades. (See League report on the eroding grant.)
If a mom with two kids on cash assistance gets a job, her grant will end once she earns $814 a month, even though that income will keep her at 44 percent below poverty.
Another major change in the decade was a 2006 law that put a lifetime, four-year time limit on cash assistance benefits. And DHS workers have watched caseloads grow dramatically to the point that waiting rooms and parking lots have become dangerous places for recipients and caseworkers alike.
In addition, Michigan hasn’t done what’s needed to help low-income adults acquire skills or gain additional education, though No Worker Left Behind has helped some workers and the Jobs, Education and Training program replaced the Work First program, recognizing the importance of education and training in addition to work experience.
— Michigan League for Human Services staff