With unemployment in Michigan officially at more than 10 percent, and with at least double that rate in Detroit, the social safety net is needed now more than ever.
But Gov. Rick Snyder and his Republican allies in the Legislature have instead chosen to shred the safety net, making matters much worse for people who were already in desperate straits. The consequences may well prove to be catastrophic.
Last week, on virtually party line votes, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed, the Legislature enacted a 48-month cap on welfare benefits. Snyder will sign the bill into law, which will take effect on Oct. 1. This heartless and mean-spirited action will cut off benefits to 11,162 families, 6,560 of them in Wayne County, with devastating effects on their more than 25,000 children. The Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) will continue to provide those kicked off welfare with food stamps, day care subsidies, up to two months of rental assistance and job search assistance. Meanwhile, the DHS received a $500 million federal grant for mortgage relief, which made no sense, for most welfare recipients are renters. Only $180 million of this amount has been spent.
But with a severe job shortage in this state, where are the jobs for people losing welfare benefits? As it is, the state is unprepared for the consequences of this increase in poverty, which could include homelessness, increased crime, riots and civil disobedience, with children falling into foster care and juvenile delinquency. This approach is penny-wise and pound-foolish, for the $60 million savings in the state budget from the welfare cutoff could be greatly exceeded by the cost of its consequences.
Economically, the welfare cutoff makes no sense, either, for recipients spend what they receive and therefore contribute to the economy. Of course, the Republicans have displayed similar short-sightedness regarding unemployment compensation, when they reduced the maximum state benefit period from 26 to 20 weeks, now the shortest in the nation. Back in 2010, Republicans controlling the state Senate denied Michigan $137 million for unemployment benefits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by defeating a bill to allow these benefits to be collected by people who are taking job training or working part-time. Meanwhile, 38 other states passed similar unemployment benefit reforms and got the federal money.
The welfare cutoff is a planned catastrophe, born of class warfare, with a strong element of racism. Perhaps next week, when President Barack Obama unveils his jobs plan, we may see something to counter it.