From Staff and MCT Reports

LANSING – The 48-month cap on cash assistance sent to the governor by the state Legislature this week will take eight Mecosta County families and three Osceola County families off state cash assistance come Oct. 1.

Advocates for low income people said it would lead to homelessness and desperation for many single-parent families. State Department of Human Services officials said the department plans aggressive measures to provide a “soft landing” for beneficiaries.

State Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, supported the measure, saying four years is enough time to take whatever steps are needed to find a job. The cap will help reign in what has become a “runaway” cost for the state, he added.

DHS estimates the new limits, coupled with stricter enforcement of the federal 60-month time limit, will result in an Oct. 1 cutoff of benefits to 11,162 Michigan welfare recipients, many of them adults with young children. More than half of those cases reside in Wayne County, department officials said.

Sheryl Thompson, acting deputy director at DHS, said notices to those affected will go out next week. Many, if not all, will remain eligible for other forms of assistance, including food stamps and day care subsidies, she said. The department also will provide two months of rental assistance, and caseworkers will provide intensive aid to job seekers, Thompson said.

“We will be providing every tool necessary” to enter the work force, Thompson said. “But Michigan can no longer afford to provide lifetime assistance.”

The legislation, aimed at helping to cut more than $60 million from the state budget in 2011-12, was approved with almost entire GOP support and over the opposition of minority Democrats.

Both the new state time limits and the revised application of the federal welfare cap contain fewer circumstances under which the limits are suspended for hardship exceptions. But state workers will retain some flexibility about how rigorously they are enforced.

Thompson said she believes virtually all of the 11,000-plus cases come from households capable of producing some earned income.

Advocates for poor people were critical of the changes, which they said will cause a spike in poverty and slow Michigan’s economic recovery.

“It is highly unfortunate and counterproductive to the state’s future economy ... to casually dismiss the economic reality of thousands of Michigan children,” said Tom Hickson, vice president of the Michigan Catholic Conference.

Marian Kramer, a leader at the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, said the legislative action would lead to more people squatting in vacant homes without the resources to buy food or the other necessities of life.

“For them to consciously pass something like this, given the economic crisis we’re in, just shows how much they hate that section of the working class,” she said. “But let some corporations go up and ask for tax breaks, and they’ll break their necks to be lap dogs for them.”

Sara Wurfel, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, said the governor expects to sign the legislation, which he views as an important step in Michigan’s reform efforts, “ensuring that public assistance is a bridge to independence ... but also striking a balance” by providing exceptions where true hardships exist.