Federal law requiring food assistance recipients to work expanded

All able-bodied Michigan residents ages 18-49 without dependents who receive food assistance will now have to show they are either working or participating in another approved activity.

The newly expanded policy went into effect Oct. 1, and was previously applicable to only 14 Michigan counties: Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Clinton, Eaton, Grand Traverse, Ingham, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kent, Livingston, Oakland, Ottawa and Washtenaw. Now these requirements are in place in all Michigan counties.

“This new policy only affects a small percentage of recipients,” explained Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Public Information Officer Bob Wheaton. “Anyone who is disabled or are heads of families with children and those who otherwise meet the requirements for exemption won’t be affected by this change.”

People who fall under the new requirements must work an average of 20 hours a week every month, be enrolled in an approved job training program 20 hours a week each month or participate in an approved community service at a nonprofit group.

Wheaton explained that those affected by the expansion must be in  compliance within three months of their next annual case determination. This means some people will not have to comply until September 2019 while others will be affected earlier, depending on when their next case determination falls.

Anyone just starting the application process or who is already in the process of applying for food assistance must comply with the new requirements immediately. All recipients will also have their cases reviewed every year and must submit proof of complying with the new policy at that time or lose their benefits.

The policy is part of the federal Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program that began in 2003. Michigan was exempt at the time due to its high unemployment rates that ranged from 6.2 percent in April 2003 to a high of 14.9 percent in 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since then, the state’s unemployment rate has progressively gone down and as of August was
4.1 percent, which meant the waiver was no
longer valid.

Letters have been sent out to the estimated 67,000 people possibly affected that explains the expanded policy and its requirements. Recipients are exempt if they meet the following criteria:

  • Are physically or mentally unable to work
  • Get Retirement, Survivors and Disability Insurance due to disability or blindness, or collect Supplemental Security Income or State Disability Assistance
  • Pregnancy
  • Collect or have applied for
    unemployment benefits
  • Enrolled in a drug or alcohol treatment and rehabilitation program
  • Attend training or college at least part time and meet the student eligibility criteria for food assistance
  • Care for an incapacitated person or a child under age 6 (they do not have to live with
    the recipient)
  • Live in a household with a child under age 18

Wheaton added, “MDHHS is working with Michigan Works! to help affected recipients.”

MDHHS, Michigan Works! and the Talent Investment Agency will provide resources such as training programs to assist those affected in getting a job or otherwise becoming compliant. Resources will be available in these 20 counties to help people meet the requirements: Bay, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Genesee, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Isabella, Jackson, Lenawee, Macomb, Midland, Monroe, Montcalm, Muskegon, Saginaw, St. Clair, St. Joseph, Van Buren and Wayne.

The new policy comes ahead of a change in law that will require all able-bodied Michigan residents receiving Medicaid benefits to work, which takes affect January 2020. The bill was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder this year and could affect about 670,000 recipients of the state’s Healthy
Michigan Plan.

Anyone with questions about the expanded policy should call their MDHHS case specialist with questions or go to michigan.gov/foodassistance for more information.

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