LANSING (AP) – A state agency is suggesting welfare reforms it says would improve the chances for Michigan’s poorest families to become self-sufficient.

The Department of Human Services also said in a report to a legislative work group yesterday that the changes could help reduce the state’s welfare caseload, which in September had 211,402 recipients on cash assistance, down slightly from the 2004 monthly average of 211,569.

The state spends nearly $395 million annually on cash assistance to low-income families.

The proposed changes target a Michigan program called “Work First” that seeks to find jobs for welfare recipients. About half of the people who now go through the program return to the welfare rolls within a year.

“Although we have been able to help many families connect with the work force, those connections are too often temporary with wages insufficient to move the families from poverty,” a DHS report said.

“Many are working at jobs with wages and hours that are not sufficient to close their cash assistance cases. Whether working or not, they often have low skill levels and poor work histories.”

House Republicans and the Senate also are offering welfare reform plans, said Rep. Jerry Kooiman, a Grand Rapids Republican among the leaders of the welfare work group. The panel is reviewing who gets assistance and what changes could be made in the system.

The House Republican plan emphasizes giving welfare recipients more job skills training and education, Kooiman said, in exchange for more accountability.

“I am hopeful we can come up with a plan that looks at additional benefits as well as responsibilities,” Kooiman said.

The plans seek to reduce the number of welfare recipients, particularly those who have been on welfare for at least four years.

Low education and literacy levels are among the biggest barriers to welfare recipients getting and keeping jobs. But the current program limits educational and training opportunities, the DHS report said.

Physical health, mental health and substance abuse problems also contribute to problems welfare recipients have holding a job, as does a lack of reliable transportation.

The DHS report suggests changes that include developing a specific self-sufficiency plan for each family in the program that would replace Work First. The plan would outline services to be provided – such as remedial education and skills training – and the family’s responsibilities for receiving them.

 

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