LANSING (AP) – Michigan Human Services director Maura Corrigan on Thursday strongly rejected the accusation that the state has been deliberately slow in reinstating welfare benefits to thousands of recipients who were cut from the rolls but later ordered to be put back on them.
Jackie Doig, of the Saginaw-based Center for Civil Justice, says only about 100 of the 11,000 families that lost benefits starting last October have had them restored, despite a March court order telling the state to do so.
In that ruling, Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Geoffrey Neithercut found that Michigan can’t take away welfare benefits under the five-year federal limit if recipients still qualify for cash assistance under state law.
The state has appealed the March ruling but has been unable to get a stay of it, and the center filed a motion this week asking Neithercut to find the department in contempt. He set a July 16 hearing on the matter.
Corrigan told The Associated Press on Thursday that re-enrollment is not automatic.
Those hoping to get their benefits back are treated as new applicants and must go for a one-day JET Program orientation on how to find jobs or gain additional training even if they’ve gone through it before. Caseworkers have to manually override the computer system that tracks welfare recipients to get benefits restored, increasing the amount of time required.
“We have taken action with regard to thousands of these cases, and that is a complicated process,” Corrigan said. “To suggest that DHS is nonchalant about this process could not be further from the truth.”
She wouldn’t say how many families have been reinstated, saying that information will be provided at the court hearing.
“There is just no excuse for how long it is taking. These families are going without utilities, housing, they’ve had their water turned off. … It’s a nightmare,” Doig said Thursday. “They were promised that these cases would move quickly and they are not. They are sitting.”
Michigan lawmakers in 2007 adopted a four-year limit that had several exceptions, then approved stricter enforcement last year.
The four-year limit doesn’t include months where someone with a disability can’t work, or where family members are caring for a disabled spouse or child and can’t hold a job outside the home, but those months count under the federal limit. Neithercut ruled that the state can’t deny benefits to those who haven’t reached the four-year state cap.
The law also exempts from the state limit recipients 65 or older who don’t qualify for Social Security benefits or who receive very low benefits, and temporarily exempts some recipients who are domestic violence victims. The state had anticipated saving $60 million by changing its policies.
The Michigan Supreme Court decided in April against immediately taking up the state’s appeal, saying the Court of Appeals should hear the case first and should do so quickly. No opinion has yet been released.
Doig says the DHS has created a “slow, cumbersome process” for handling applications to be reinstated. Corrigan says the department must follow federal requirements to certify the applicants are eligible or face fines.
“If we didn’t do it, then we would be audit bait for the federal government,” she said. “We are in compliance with the stipulated order.”
Responded Doig, “These cases are not being processed in a timely manner in spite of DHS promises that they would be expedited, and families are … still not receiving assistance because of the unlawful policy.”
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