Lansing Update: May 6, 2011

In This Week’s Lansing Update:

  1. House Committee Moves 48-Month Lifetime Limit for State Assistance
  2. House Passes Fiscal Year 2012 Budgets
  3. Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Anti-Bullying Legislation

House Committee Moves 48-Month Lifetime Limit for State Assistance

The following news release was released by Michigan Catholic Conference this week regarding legislation sent to the House floor that would reform the state’s welfare assistance program:

Statement on Welfare Reform Legislation

(Lansing)—Michigan Catholic Conference released the following statement opposing legislation passed by the House Families, Children and Seniors committee today that seeks to reform the state’s welfare system by diminishing the number of caseloads and increasing the penalties for those found to be in noncompliance:

“It is regrettable that the legislation passed out of committee this morning will only create more cracks through which families and children will fall,” said Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy Tom Hickson. “During testimony before the committee several weeks ago the Conference encouraged members to abandon plans to reform the Family Independence Program in light of the fact that the 2006 welfare reform legislation was determined to be working. Unfortunately, the committee has chosen to proceed with measures that will heighten the suffering many of our fellow Michigan citizens and their children are facing today.”

While the Conference recognizes the exemptions that are built into the legislation, and supports the income disregard increase that will allow recipients to work more while receiving benefits, it opposes House Bills 4409 and 4410 for the following three reasons:

  1. The 48-month lifetime cap for assistance, and the retroactive nature of the legislation, if it were to be enacted, would mean some 12,600 families would immediately lose public assistance. This is akin to changing the rules in the middle of the game. Without any support mechanism built into the legislation for those who will lose assistance, it is inevitable that thousands of families and children will plunge into a dire situation.
  2. The legislation shifts the penalty structure for noncompliance in the Jobs, Education and Training (JET) program to a three month ban for the first occasion, six months for the second, and a lifetime ban from public assistance for a third occasion of noncompliance. A lifetime ban on assistance is poor public policy for two reasons:
    • It fails to take into consideration those who are able to find employment but later find themselves in need of assistance due to job loss or any other unforeseen circumstance;
    • Only those with children are eligible to enroll in the Family Independence Program. The legislation fails to address the impact it will have on the children of those who have made repeated mistakes and will be banned for life from receiving assistance.
  3. It is highly unfortunate that the legislation does not take into consideration the numerous counties in Michigan where the unemployment levels are up to double the state average. Where are jobs to be found in Lake County, for example, where over sixty percent of the property in the county is publicly owned? Simply put, there are no jobs in these areas, and those who will be kicked off of assistance likely do not have the financial means or ability to relocate immediately.

“Unless the above listed concerns are addressed, the Conference will continue to oppose this legislation on behalf of the most vulnerable residents of Michigan who have no other means to sustain a dignified quality of life,” said Hickson.

House Passes Fiscal Year 2012 Budgets

The Michigan House of Representatives this week passed two spending bills for the Fiscal Year 2012 state budget: legislation that funds K-12 schools, community colleges and higher education, and an omnibus bill that funds every state department aside from the education spending.

The House’s strategy to pass an omnibus bill was an effort to pass departmental spending bills that reflects spending levels as reported by each department’s appropriations subcommittee. The State Senate, however, has taken a different approach, and has reported each departmental spending bill individually.

Differences between the two chambers’ legislation will likely be reconciled in conference committees, where a small number of majority and minority members from each chamber meets to produce a conference report. That conference report would then need to be passed by a simple majority in each chamber, without amendment, before heading to the Governor’s office for his signature.

Michigan Catholic Conference staff awaits the formation of the Department of Human Services conference committee in order to advocate on behalf of those program cuts previously reported in Lansing Update. Of specific concerns are funding levels for the Children’s Clothing Allowance policy, the State Disability Assistance Program, funding for Indigent Burial and punitive sanctions in welfare reform legislation.

Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Anti-Bullying Legislation

Legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that would require the board of school district, intermediate school district or public school academy to adopt and implement a policy prohibiting bullying or harassment at school. The legislation was supported by the Michigan Catholic Conference.

"Bullying or harassment" would mean “abuse of a pupil by one or more other pupils that substantially interferes with educational opportunities, benefits, or programs of one or more pupils, or adversely affects the ability of a pupil to participate in or benefit from educational programs or activities by placing him or her in reasonable fear of physical harm or by causing emotional distress.”

Senate Bill 137 does not “enumerate” protected classes of students, which has been the point of contention in the legislature the past several years, but simply and plainly prohibits bullying against any student.

The legislation awaits consideration from the full Senate.