The State of Michigan is making it easier for families who need food assistance and other public benefits by easing rules that are among some of the most extreme restrictions in the country.
According to a press release from Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office, effective November 1st, there will be one single asset limit of $15,000 for the state’s food assistance, cash assistance, and emergency relief programs. Assets under that amount — including cash on hand and money in checking or savings accounts — will not count against a person applying for those programs.
Additionally, vehicles will no longer be counted in the asset test for food assistance, bringing that program’s limitations in line with the cash assistance program. As for emergency relief, only a second vehicle will be counted in that program’s asset test.
Currently, the asset limits are far more stringent. Those applying for State Emergency Relief can only have assets up to $500. Prior to Whitmer’s appointment of Robert Gordon as Health and Human Services director, that limit had been set at a mere $50.
Applicants for the Family Independence cash assistance program can only have up to $3,000 in assets. The limit for the Food Assistance Program is $5,000.
According to the statement, the current limits are out of line with most other states, who have concluded that such restrictive asset tests are counterproductive. Currently, 34 states have no asset test whatsoever for federally-funded food assistance under the S.N.A.P. program.
M.D.H.H.S. will also now allow an applicant to state their assets instead of requiring an asset verification checklist. The press release says most states that still asset test for food assistance allow individuals to self test in that manner.
Whitmer and Gordon were at the Greater Lansing Food Bank earlier today to make the announcement.
At the event, the governor said, “These asset test policy changes are important, because right now, too many Michigan families are struggling to get ahead.” She added, “This is about doing what’s right to help more families get the resources they need and building a stronger Michigan for everyone.”
Gordon remarked that it’s wrong to prevent families from having a rainy-day account in order to receive public assistance.
“People should be encouraged to save – not discouraged from saving – so that they can get out of poverty,” he said. “Michigan is unusual in saying that, in addition to having a low income, families also have to establish that they have almost nothing in the bank to receive public assistance. Most states have moved away from stringent asset tests because they are hard to administer, they lead to higher administrative costs as people come on and off programs more frequently, and they discourage low-income families from saving to build a better future.”
Gordon added that M.D.H.H.S. remains committed to addressing fraud and abuse in all of its programs, hoping to quell concerns that the change might open the door for people to take advantage of the social safety net programs. He says caseworkers will still be free to use their judgement and ask for documents when reports seem questionable. He reminded those in attendance that intentionally false reports are still crimes subject to prosecution.
The release also notes that one section of the newly-passed state budget that the governor and the state legislature saw eye-to-eye on was a $3.4 Million increase in funding for the Office of Inspector General. As a result, the I.G. is increasing its monitoring of asset reports.
Support for the change was voiced by Greater Lansing Food Bank C.E.O. Michelle Lantz and Michigan Community Action’s Board of Directors President Jill Sutton.