By ALEX MITCHELL
Capital News Service
LANSING–Welfare advocates are scrambling to reverse a state policy that would require assets to be tested before any legislation moves to make it an established law.
The Snyder Administration policy that will require families receiving food assistance to have assets valued at no more than $5,000 went into effect Oct. 1. Meanwhile, state Reps. Pat Somerville and Paul Muxlow introduced legislation on Sept. 7 that would set it in law. However, the Department of Human Services policy may be enough to halt that legislation.
The motive was to stop people who win the lottery from receiving food assistance, said Matt Muxlow, legislative aide for Somerville, R-New Boston. If the new policy does its job, the legislation probably won’t move forward, he added.
There was a strong push for such legislation after Leroy Fick, an Auburn man who won $2 million in the Michigan lottery and continued to receive food assistance because he took his winnings in a lump sum, making the winnings an asset as opposed to income. The push for asset testing began soon after.
Welfare advocates agree that assistance should only go to families that truly need it.
People with lake houses or a fleet of vehicles shouldn’t be receiving food assistance, but that isn’t who they are advocating for, said Jack Kresnack, president of Michigan’s Children, an independent organization advocating for children and their families.
Welfare advocates say such legislation is bad because it would force families to liquidate their assets rather than maintain them.
“Instead of creating opportunities to save and achieve lasting financial security, asset-limit tests force families to forfeit their long-term savings and economic self-sufficiency in order to receive short-term yet vital, assistance,” said Ross Yednock, director of the asset building policy project at the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan. “It is public policy that is as short-sighted as it is economically unsound.”
Melissa Smith, senior policy analyst for the Michigan League of Human Services, said that her group is focusing on the current asset-test policy rather than any upcoming legislation.
Legislation that came up in June would have required a $3,000 limit on assets for receiving food assistance, but it has since stalled, she said. There is something moving again, but our primary focus right now is to reverse the policy put into place by the Snyder Administration.
Forcing people to liquidate their assets is not the way to get people out of poverty, said Karen Holcomb-Merrill, policy director for the Michigan League of Human Services. The government should be advocating asset building, not trying to make people sacrifice the only things of value they have in order to eat.
Michigan is one of 20 states requiring an asset test for food assistance.
The Michigan League of Human Services estimates that every county will be affected differently. While 6,560 families in Wayne County could lose assistance, only one family from Cheboygan County is expected to lose benefits. Overall, 11,162 families could lose food assistance under the policy.
“We all agree that poverty is a bad thing. We all agree that hunger is a bad thing. We all agree that we need to be good stewards of our precious dollars,” said Gilda Jacobs, president of the Michigan League for Human Services. “The Snyder administration will implement a policy that runs counter to all of that.”
She went on to call the policy “just plain foolish.”
Jacobs gathered with representatives of other several other policy groups at a press conference in late September to present a letter signed by 114 organizations protesting the asset test.
The Department of Human Services estimates that about 15,000 people will be affected by this policy.
Sharon Emery, vice president of the Truscott Rossman public relations firm representing the Department of Human Services, stressed that the asset test will only look to ensure that people receiving food assistance truly need it.
The policy will affect less than 1 percent of the 1.9 million people in Michigan receiving food assistance, said Emery.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By ALEX MITCHELL