Michigan's PlanIn 1992 Michigan outlined four key principles of welfare reform.:
- Encouraging Employment
- Targeting Support
- Increasing Personal Responsibility
- Involving Communities
These four principles will continue to be our guideposts as we exercise the opportunities provided in the federal block grant legislation. In the three years since implementation of our welfare reform initiative, To Strengthen Michigan Families, the results have been truly remarkable. The Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) caseload has dropped to the lowest level in over twenty years and continues to drop each month. More and more clients are working. The number of cases reporting earnings has increased to an all-time high of nearly 30 percent; and, where both parents are in the home, nearly 50 percent of the cases report income from earnings. Over 70,000 AFDC cases have been closed as a result of earned income since October 1992. Further, nearly 75 percent of AFDC recipients are demonstrating responsibility by participating in the Social Contract which requires 20 hours of productive activity per week. While the number of out-of-home placements for children has been increasing on the national level, the number of placements due to abuse and neglect in Michigan has decreased by 7.6 percent from an all-time high of 14,334 in May, 1992 to 13,246 in September, 1995.
New Name, New Focus
Welfare as we know it in Michigan will end, but we will remain strong in our commitment to children, providing assistance to families moving toward independence and in supporting the transition from welfare to work. There will no longer be a Department of Social Services. Instead there will be a Family Independence Agency. There will no longer be an Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. Instead there will be the Family Independence Program. Family Independence clients will not have Assistance Payments workers. Instead they will have Family Independence Specialists.
There will be expectations of the department, caseworkers, applicants, clients, absent parents, and communities in the Family Independence Program. The Family Independence Agency will be more user friendly. Family Independence clients will have one case worker for employment services, financial assistance and child care services. Each adult client will have a customized Family Independence Contract that outlines specific areas of responsibility that must be met to receive assistance and assist them in achieving independence from welfare.
The Family Independence Specialist will authorize financial assistance, manage the case, broker services and monitor progress in achieving self-sufficiency.
Applicants must demonstrate responsibility for becoming self-sufficient before any payments will be made. Initial grants will be limited to 60 days and only those who comply with their Family Independence Contract during those 60 days will receive further assistance. Failure to comply with the Family Independence Contract will result in swift and certain penalties. As long as adults meet their responsibilities, assistance and self-support services will continue to be provided. New pro-work policies make it easier to find and keep employment. Working clients will have simpler reporting requirements and may receive cash instead of food stamps. The family, not government, will control child care choices. New asset rules will allow families to secure reliable transportation, tools, work clothing, etc. without jeopardizing their financial assistance.
Despite new tougher rules, Michigan has not altered its commitment to its children. Children will not be denied financial support because their parents are young, receive public assistance or were born in another country.
A number of reforms are also being recommended to prevent abuse and neglect, protect children and preserve families. Communities, extended families, foster parents and adoptive parents will be asked to play a large role in keeping children safe and addressing the needs of those who have been victims. Proven models will be adopted and expanded to improve the processes for risk evaluation, decision making and service delivery. The continuum of child protection services will be broadened and enriched with local community collaborative bodies being given funding and primary responsibility for prevention. Throughout the continuum, there will be efforts to increase proficiency and support for those who work with and for children.
While the goals of Michigan's block grant program are far reaching, they are not unattainable. Michigan citizens who require temporary financial assistance have truly risen to the challenge issued by our state over the last three years. There is every reason to believe that, with the increased incentives, opportunities for greater personal responsibility and clear understanding of penalties, those in need will succeed in meeting their responsibilities. To assure that Michigan will be able to assist those in need now and in the future, contingency funds will be saved out of fiscal year 1996 appropriations for use during times of high unemployment. With the additional supports and directions outlined in this block grant plan, Michigan families will grow stronger and succeed.