By JENNIFER CHEN
Capital News Service
LANSING – Many children have lost cash assistance since September due to the 60-month limit set by the Department of Human Services, according to the Michigan League for Human Services.
The number of people who lost benefits dropped 30 percent between September 2011 and February 2012. Nearly 66,000 people, including 46,000 children lost benefits, according to the Department of Human Services.
Families are allowed to receive assistances for 60 months while job hunting.
“A 60-month limit is particularly harsh. It does not take into account families where a child or spouse has a disability that requires a parent to stay home instead of work,” Karen Holcomb-Merrill, policy director at the League, an advocacy group, said.
The 48-month limit set by lawmakers and the 60-month limit set by the department confused many families with children. The big difference between them is that more people would lose their benefit under the 60-month limit, she said.
“The 60-month limit looks back to 1996 and does not take into account the circumstances of a recipient caring for a child or spouse with a disability,” she said.
According to the league, Wayne County ranked first in the number of children who lost benefits. Oakland County and Macomb County are also in the top 10.
A Genesee County judge decided the department did not have the authority to end assistance to families who were still eligible under the 48-month time limit, according to the Center for Civil Justice in Saginaw, that filed suit on behalf of the families.
The state is appealing that decision.
The 60-month limit did not exclude months that the family received federally funded assistance. Families that lost assistance had not reached the 48-month limit, which only counts months on assistance after September 2007.
It also excludes months in which the department determines parents cannot work – such as time a parent is needed at home to care for a child or parent with disabilities.
“Legislators and the governor consistently have said they want to protect families that cannot support themselves through employment because of serious disabilities, but the 60-month limit policy eliminated that protection,” says Jackie Doig, a senior attorney with the Center.
Holcomb-Merrill said the state’s economy is improving, but not enough – especially for those with multiple barriers to employment — to make up for such a dramatic downsizing of the welfare program.
“This means that more than 46,000 children are in families losing basic support, and some emergency providers report a growing demand for emergency food and shelter,” she said.