-By Kathy Barks Hoffman- Associated Press
September 6, 2011- LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday signed into law a stricter, four-year lifetime limit on cash welfare benefits, prompting advocates for the poor to warn that tens of thousands of residents will find themselves without cash assistance on Oct. 1.
Michigan's first-year Republican chief executive said the state will offer exemptions to the limit for those with a disability who can't work, those who care for a disabled spouse or child and those who are 65 or older and don't qualify for Social Security benefits or receive very low benefits.
Some recipients who are the victims of domestic violence also may be temporarily exempted.
"We are returning cash assistance to its original intent as a transitional program to help families while they work toward self-sufficiency," Snyder said in a statement. He noted that the state still will help the poor by offering food stamps, health care coverage through Medicaid, child care and emergency services.
Then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, signed a bill that created a four-year limit starting in 2007. But that law exempted many welfare recipients, including those whose caseworkers said they were making progress toward finding employment.
The 2010 election of Snyder and the simultaneous Republican takeover of the Michigan House gave the GOP a free hand to set its own course on public assistance.
The change gives Michigan the Midwest's toughest welfare time limit, according to a survey by The Detroit News. It said there are five-year limits in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. Indiana has a two-year limit for adults — but none for children.
Gilda Jacobs of the Michigan League for Human Services said she expects about 41,000 people to lose their cash assistance payments on Oct. 1 when the state's new budget year begins. That includes 29,700 children, according to the Michigan Department of Human Services.
"We're very, very concerned," Jacobs said. "As the days go by, new people will be meeting the 48-month limit. … More will be falling off that cliff."
The new law will reduce the number of children and adults receiving cash assistance by nearly a fifth, from more than 221,000 to around 180,000. Enforcing a four-year limit will save the state more than $60 million annually, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis.
Jacobs said it's hard to see how 11,000 adults will find a job when Michigan's July unemployment rate was 10.9 percent, tied with South Carolina for third-highest in the nation.
"We still have to preserve a safety net for people who, through no fault of their own, can't find a job," she said, noting that most cash assistance goes to help poor residents pay their rent. "There's obviously a lot of anxiety out there. Folks aren't sure exactly what this means to them."