Food Service & Agriculture, Government, and Law

MDHHS work requirement reinstatement begins in April

‘Able-bodied adults’ in Allegan, Kalamazoo counties must return to work in order to receive food assistance.

February 23, 2018
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More people will be obligated to return to the workforce in April.

The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS) is requiring “able-bodied adults” who are between the ages of 18 and 49, have no disabilities, have no dependents and are receiving food assistance to seek employment.

The reinstatement comes after Michigan’s unemployment rate decreased substantially over the past decade. High unemployment rates in Michigan caused the work requirement to be waived since 2002.

Effective Jan. 1, more than 16,000 “able-bodied adults” living in Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Clinton, Eaton, Grand Traverse, Ingham, Ionia, Kalamazoo and Livingston counties were given a three-month grace period to finds jobs, according to MDHHS.

In April, individuals living in those counties who don’t adhere to the requirements will no longer receive food assistance.

Food assistance is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that is available to low-income residents. The program allows individuals to purchase food such as cereals, fruits, chicken and fish, among other things.

According to MDHHS, individuals who fall under that category will be required to work an average of 20 hours per week each month in unsubsidized employment, participate an average of 20 hours per week each month in an approved employment and training program or participate in community service by volunteering at a nonprofit organization in order to continue receiving food assistance.

In Jan. 2017, 14,000 residents of Kent, Oakland, Ottawa, and Washtenaw counties were affected by the reinstatement. 

Bob Wheaton, the public information officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Resources, said the department has been working with the four counties that were initially affected and is continuing to work with the new counties that are going to be affected by putting them in training programs. These programs are designed to assess different types of barriers that might be in place to prevent “able-bodied adults” from getting a job.

“Whether they need help putting together résumés, or whether they have transportation issues or medical issues, mental health issues, substance use issues and things like that, we always try to address a barrier so it can be easier to find a job,” Wheaton said. 

MDHHS hopes to implement the requirement throughout the entire state by October 2018.

The state’s unemployment rate peaked at 14.9 percent in June 2009, according to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. In December, Michigan’s unemployment rate was 4.7 percent.

Wheaton said the number of people in Michigan who have been dependent on food assistance has been going down. 

During the 2016 fiscal year, before the limitations began, there were an average of 1,473,614 recipients statewide. Now, in the 2018 fiscal year, the state is offering food assistance to 1,317,718 residents. 

On average, each resident received $121 per month in 2016. Now, each resident is receiving $124, according to the MDHHS.

In 2016, an average of 78,685 Kent County residents received food assistance per month. They received $116 on average to purchase food.

So far, 64,960 Kent County residents are beneficiaries of food assistance in the 2018 fiscal year. They are receiving an average of $115 on a monthly basis.

However, Wheaton said those numbers cannot solely be credited to the elimination of the waiver.

Wheaton said the overall goal is to allow “able-bodied adults” to remain in the workforce. 

“We are working with these individuals with the hope of them meeting those work requirements so they can continue to receive food assistance or, even better yet, find a good job, a sustainable job to where they are making enough money so they don’t need to receive food assistance anymore,” Wheaton said.

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